And 1: Stanford 76, North Carolina State 72

Owens took over down low in the second half.

Kevin Danna brings his insights and observations from Stanford's impressive comeback in a 76-72 victory over North Carolina State on Sunday afternoon at Maples Pavilion. Check out what Kevin saw from the home team as they bounced back in time to overtake the ACC's Wolfpack.

How about that for a way to go into the 13-day break?

In front of the most raucous crowd in recent Maples Pavilion memory, the Fighting Dawkinses grinded their way to a much-needed 76-72 victory over the NC State Wolfpack. The win puts the Farm Boys at 8-1 and right on track to potentially finish the pre-Christmas slate with 11 W's. More importantly, it gives the Cardinal one more quality non-conference tally.

It was a great win for many reasons, most notably the comeback ability Stanford displayed on Sunday. This marks the second time this season in which the Cardinal has had to overcome second half deficits. It's obvious that the Wolfpack, while a pretty solid basketball team, are no Syracuse, but they also aren't Colorado State either.  As good as a tweener-conference team as the Rams are, NC State is from the vaunted ACC and look to be much improved from recent years with Gottfried now at the helm. Down by 12 in the second half on two separate occasions, the Card came through.

How?

Well for starters, it certainly helped that C.J. Leslie couldn't play for the majority of the final frame. That dude was an absolute BEAST in the first half. He looked unstoppable. He had one spin move on the low post in the first half that made me say to myself "Well this is gonna be a long day." He has "league" written all over him.

But that's not to say Stanford pulled its own weight. CJ Leslie or not, the Cardinal D stepped it up BIGTIME down the stretch, holding the ‘Pack without a FG for a seven-minute stretch and 39 percent overall shooting for the second half. To borrow a volleyball term, the Wolfpack was out of system thanks to the Stanford pressure. It was as if Carly Wopat was racking up block after block, forcing the opposition to dive for digs at the net and eventually leading to a freeball that either she or Rachel Williams would put away.  The Cardinal only forced two turnovers during that seven-minute drought but forced the opposition into plenty of rushed shots and bad looks. And even when Leslie was in the second half for five minutes, he didn't score.

Offensively, the Cardinal wouldn't have won if it weren't for the gutsy play of Aaron Bright. When nothing else was going right on offense for Stanford, Mr. Sea-Town Swag took it upon himself to put the team on his back like Greg Jennings. Whether it was the layup in traffic or the big three to keep the Cardinal close, Bright dropped 12 of his 15 points in that second half. It might be premature, but it's a player like Bright that can make the national spotlight warm up to this team come March.

It also helped that Anthony Brown started hitting a little bit near the end. He was taking good shots all game long but couldn't get anything to fall. He just needed to keep shooting, because eventually they were going to drop. Only two field goals in the second half, but one was a huge three that started the 19-4 run that essentially did the Wolfpack in and the other one was a dunk that riled up an already-lively crowd.

Last and certainly not least, the free throw shooting was pretty good, wasn't it? I know I said Stanford wouldn't have won if Aaron Bright didn't do his thing, but the Cardinal REALLY wouldn't have won if they weren't so clutch down the stretch to pretty much put the game out of reach. It wasn't just one person, either. Josh Owens was 7-9, including six in a row in the final four minutes and 20 seconds. Chasson Randle? A perfect 8-8 to help him on his way to 16 points. And then Anthony Brown again, three out of four down the stretch, including the one that put the Card up four with five seconds to play. Twenty-nine out of 34 as a team and 19 for 21 in the final 20. What a pleasant surprise that was!

Huge dub. It gives Stanford its second victory over a quality BCS school - more than any other Pac-12 team can say right now (which isn't a good thing at all for the conference at large).

It's a huge confidence-booster- not necessarily for the team, but for the fans. The win gave plenty to cheer about for the largest crowd in Maples all season. Stanford loses that game, and some of those casual fans who came out just for Sunday might not have come back. But by winning this match-up, Stanford basketball has given the fans another reason to return to Maples when play resumes two Saturdays from now (or in the case of the students, on January 12th, when the Cardinal host their first conference weekend when school is back in session).

NC State is no top-25 team by any stretch of the imagination, but the importance of this victory cannot be understated. It would have been a long 13 days of practice and final exams had the Cardinal lost.

Time for the players to concentrate on the books. San Diego is a far ways off after playing eight games in 23 days.

Until the 17th…
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