Kevin Danna brings his insights and observations heading into Saturday afternoon's home contest…
And 1: Stanford 51, USC 43
In another game that Paul Westhead would consider a sight for sore eyes, the Stanford Cardinal defended their way to another grueling triumph that saw as little offense as the October football classic had in abundance.
As soon as the game got underway and USC started out on a 10-2 run, the January 2009 Oregon State- Stanford Maples game popped into my mind. That was a Beavers team that at the time appeared to be very offensively challenged, but somehow was hitting everything and got out to a great start.
Unlike that fateful loss to the Beavs, the Trojans never pushed their lead to 16-2, and the Cardinal saved themselves from having to dig out of too deep a hole thanks to the fire-starter Chasson Randle, who hit a much-needed three to make sure the game didn't get out of hand. USC doesn't have that pull-away ability, but a couple of more buckets added on to that 10-2 run and it could have been a long afternoon for the home team. That 5-0 Stanford stretch to cut the lead to 10-7 might have been the most important run because it mitigated what otherwise could have been a disastrous start.
But still, the Trojans continued to hit for a little bit. When they knocked down two of their first three downtown attempts, I thought the world had turned upside down. That, along with Byron Wesley's eight first half points, and hey, maybe 2012 was the real deal…
No disrespect to Wesley, but after watching that young man shoot in warm-ups, he has one of the ugliest-looking shooting forms I've seen. I'm a big believer that form is overrated and you should just shoot the way that is most comfortable to you, but yuck.
And then I started to think about Kevin O'Neill's roster, and there are really no shooters on that team. I guess Alexis Moore is pretty decent with the jumper, but if you don't have guys on your team that can knock down open perimeter jumpers, you have very little chance of winning. So when USC got off to that 12-points-in-six-minutes start, I was getting a little frustrated.
That, however, was about the only offensive outburst the Trojans ever had. After starting 5-8 from the floor, the Trojans went just 11-38 to finish the game, a percentage Ichiro would be frustrated with if that was his batting average.
A big kudos goes to the Cardinal perimeters for being able to agitate Maurice Jones, who was held to only 1-12 shooting and five points for the late afternoon. Jones rarely got a clean look and was chased off a lot of shots that forced him to take it to the rack, where an Owens, Z or Nastic would be waiting to further aggravate his eventual field goal attempt. For a team that allowed Ronald Nored to go for 16 in the second half and Lazeric Jones to score 26 in back-to-back games, holding Jones to single digits and his lowest-scoring output of the season was by far the best job Stanford has done defensively on a star player (or leading scorer).
Certainly, there was a lot left to be desired on the offensive end after Stanford committed 10 turnovers in a half for the second consecutive game, this time the final frame being the period of discontent. The only reason this game was close at the end was because of a seven and a half-minute span in which the Card gave it away six times. During that stretch, the Card's lead shrunk from 40-29 to 44-41. Yes, Stanford could have done much better on their side of things, but USC's smothering defense definitely played a major role. The Trojans won't turn a team over all that much, but they will force the opposition to run a lot of clock. And in late clock situations, the Cardinal have trouble.
But they are at their best with the shot clock winding down when Chasson Randle has it in his hands. In one such situation with the Farm Boys up 40-36, the Rock Island Rookie went into "F this, I've had enough" mode and blew by the Trojans defense for a very impressive layup to whether the storm a bit. As much as I love Aaron Bright, I'd rather have Chasson handling the rock when the clock hits 10 and the ball is 30 feet away from the basket.
However, it was Aaron's 5-0 spurt that really put the game on ice after the Trojans cut the lead to 44-41. His long two off the inbounds pass to Owens (such plays are still a strong suit for Dawkins and company) combined with the three on the next possession did the Trojans in, because when you're USC and you have to try to score nine points in four minutes, that means increasing your offensive output by almost 60 percent for a tenth of the game. And for USC, that's almost impossible.
This marks the second consecutive defensive struggle where Aaron has been able to provide consistent scoring, something that shouldn't be overlooked. Sure, he has made some bad decisions at times, but he has also knocked down much-needed jumpers and hit huge free throws.
Speaking of which, this also marks the second consecutive defensive struggle where free throws played a huge role in the Stanford victory. Had Maurice Jones and the rest of his guys done better than 9-17 at the charity stripe (that's bad for even the Trojans, who shot it at 60 percent coming in), and had the Cardinal not hit nearly 92 percent of their free throws, this game could have had a different result. Hopefully for the Cardinal, this trend becomes a permanent thing.
By the end of the game, O'Neill had seen enough of his Trojans putting together a great defensive effort but another putrid offensive performance and elected not to foul with his team down eight and 25 seconds to play. The mad scientist (as a friend of mine calls him) had called off the dogs, realizing his team would be the second fastest in the Pac to ten losses.
For the Farm Boys, they get the much-needed home sweep of the LA schools. Neither the Bruins nor the Trojans will get into the NCAA's barring a conference tourney run, but they're never easy to beat. At the very least, Stanford proved it can hang with its conference foes. Now if they can finally get in a win in LA…
This is the first time in Dawkins history that the Card have started 12-2 and swept a conference-opening two-game weekend series. New times appear to be upon us like the Mayan long count calendar.
Next question - can the Farm Boys hit the road with equal success? A trip up north next weekend will be very telling.
Until next time, Happy New Year, folks!
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