Kevin Danna brings his insights and observations heading into Saturday afternoon's home contest…
And 1: Stanford 60, UCLA 59
If Lazeric Jones misses this free throw, Stanford will be 1-0 in Pac-12 play.
He made it.
My Celtic wishes are never wrong. Surely Stanford was to lose. After all, the Cardinal hadn't been able to put the Bruins away all evening long. Any little spurt the Farm Boys put forth to extend the lead was matched in equal amount by UCLA.
But the Card refused to give that lead away, and once Josh Huestis' resounding block on Lazeric Jones's runner essentially bled the clock to zero, Stanford was finally able to exhale in preserving a 60-59 victory over the Bru Cru.
I talked to more than one person after the game who thought the game was sloppy. I disagreed. This game was beautiful. Tough defense. Physical play. Gritty and grimy basketball. Who knew the NBA's Eastern Conference of the late 1990's would be revived on the West Coast in the Pac-12?
The first half was much what I expect the game against USC on Saturday to be like - very little offense. By their own admission in the post-game presser, the Cardinal were not crisp in the attack - ten turnovers to just eight made field goal attempts. Okay - I'll accept the word "sloppy" for this half for Stanford offensively. And on UCLA's first offensive possession, I thought Stanford's worst nightmare was coming to fruition with Josh Smith getting an early and-1.
Luckily for Stanford, Smith was kept in check for most of the night, in great thanks due to the foul trouble that plagued him all game long. That was the least of the Cardinal concerns, however, as one Lazeric Jones had a career night.
I guess that ankle didn't bother him, after all.
The Chicago kid showed why he's the Bruins' leading scorer, getting his in all sorts of ways- knocking down the longball (Jones was the only Bruin to make a three attempt), getting to the rack and hitting contested jumpers. It wasn't necessarily that Stanford's perimeters did a poor job on him - Coach Dawkins said afterwards that he thought about 14-16 of Jones' 26 points were off tough makes - it's just that Jones was that damn good tonight. When he hit a three to tie the game at 37, I simply wrote in my notes "I heart Lazeric Jones." The kid was nice tonight.
Outside of Lazeric, however, the Bruins were just 12-38 shooting as a team and 0-9 from downtown. Credit that Stanford defensive intensity that harassed the Bruins into rushed shots and multiple extra passes all night long.
The Card were able to back that up with very solid rebounding against perhaps the biggest team they have played all season long- maybe even bigger than Syracuse, as Coach Dawkins noted. Thirty-eight to 34 read the rebounding statistics in favor of Stanford. The last time these two teams played? UCLA 35, Stanford 26, and I'm not talking about the final score. Consider that a big victory for the Farm Boys.
Offensively, nothing much wowed ya outside of the outside shooting in the second half. The Cardinal went 7-13 from long range in the final frame after going just 2-11 in the first. When asked about the difference, Coach Dawkins just chalked it up to guys being able to knock down shots - the same looks from beyond were there in the first half, but they just weren't falling. He told his boys to "flush the first half"- they sure were able to flush in some more in the second.
Stanford's best offensive spurt came with the three consecutive threes in the second half that pushed a 47-all game to a 56-51 Stanford advantage, forcing Howland to use his final timeout with 5:08 remaining (side note: a lot of people - me included - have criticized Howland for blowing through his timeouts and taking them at weird junctures. I think I understand his philosophy a little better than I used to now- he basically coaches with ten timeouts- his five and the opposing coach's five. Sounds simplistic, and it is, but he can afford to stop a 2-0 run with a timeout when he has the confidence in his team to correct their mistakes and get on a run of their own, forcing the other coach to call a timeout. I'm down with it, Ben- you converted me tonight).
All three of those threes came in the flow of well-oiled offensive possessions, and all three makes had an accompanying assist - two of them from Bellevue's Bright.
But the Bruins refused to go away. Josh Smith, who had recently picked up his offense again with a beautiful low block move, got himself to the line (I became a fan of Josh Smith the person tonight - helped up Gage after he fell to the ground, took himself lightly after fouling out and playing along with the "sit down!" chant from the crowd. In interviews, he just seems like a good and honest young man).
Lazeric got himself to the line…again and again, hit three of four. Tyler Lamb awoke in the second half and had a big jumper that would cut the lead down to one again.
After a wasted Stanford possession (which, by the way, wasn't drawn up for Bright to dribble around for 25 seconds and then go one on five - Bright said it was supposed to be a pick and roll with Owens that didn't come to fruition), UCLA seemed to have all the momentum- ball in their hands, down one, 27 seconds to go and the game's hottest player on their side.
With one last chance after a jump ball that gave UCLA possession underneath the Stanford basket with nine seconds left, Josh Huestis trotted on to the floor at the last moment. In there to guard the post, he switched on to Jones (as Stanford had been switching everything down the stretch defensively) and came up with the biggest stop of the season.
Montana and Clark can have "The Catch." Stanford's Mr. Montana will gladly take "The Block."
As Dennis Rodman told Jean-Claude Van Damme after the Frenchman made a comment glorifying offense in the movie "Double Team", defense wins championships (I felt like I've used this one before - oh well). The Card didn't take home the Pac-12 crown with the win over UCLA tonight, but they put themselves on the right track.
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