The Cardinal found the right opponent to right the ship, getting a win in Los Angeles for the first…
And 1: Stanford 59, USC 47
I don't care how bad USC is, it didn't stop me from celebrating like a Red Sox fan in October 2004. The Curse of the Bambino, the Cardinal Curse in Los Angeles, it's all the same, ain't it though?
Exaggerations aside, the Farm Boys got their first win at an LA school in 14 tries and bounced back on the right side of .500 in conference play with a 59-47 win over the USC Trojans on Sunday.
Aside from the plethora of turnovers and reach-in fouls, this game was everything it should have been - low-scoring, bad Trojan shooting, dominant Cardinal rebounding, game decided by the time the second half clock hit five minutes.
I had to watch the game on DVR because of a family dinner, and as a result had my phone shut off for six hours, lest something remarkable happen in the game and have a friend spoil it for me. During that time, I dwelled on the possibility of February 21, 2009, Part 2.
When I finally got home and started watching the game back, it had all the makings of a redux of the game three years ago up in Oregon. Low scoring. Bad shooting. Careless mistakes on offense…
Like that Eugene contest, Stanford had the lead pretty much the whole way in the first half but couldn't break away. Defensively, Stanford was sound for the most part, outside of a couple of shots inside the paint. Out of the Trojans' first ten field goal attempts, I'd consider four of them good ones that Stanford should be upset about giving up. The other six were contested perimeter jumpers, and anytime USC has to settle for a perimeter jumper, that's a good thing.
Offensively, however, Stanford was out of sync. Four turnovers in the first four minutes. The Cardinal were a little out of control, and USC's help-side D was taking advantage by taking charge after charge. After Owens got off three quick shots, the elder Josh had to wait about ten minutes of game action to get off his fourth.
All of a sudden, this was a tie game at 18 after Garrett Jackson split a pair at the line for Troy. This was looking all too familiar…
And then Jarrett Mann took matters into his own hands, getting a layup to give Stanford its 20-18 halftime advantage. Since we're on the subject, doesn't Mann just look so much more comfortable at the free throw line? These last two games, his stroke has been as close to pure as it has ever been. His wrist action is a lot more consistent and fluid.
Back to the game flow. Stanford needed to throw its brass down on the table to start the second half, and the Cardinal did exactly that thanks to the youngest guy on the team - that Rock Island Rookie. After going scoreless in the first half, Chasson came out and immediately hit a perimeter J to give Stanford a five point cushion. When USC doubled down on Josh Owens, the dealer spit back a "3."
Then it was Owens' turn to provide some offense, powering over James Blasczyk for a baby hook on the right block. Add in a free throw and another Mann layup, and the Cardinal were on an 8-0 run in as much of a blink of an eye that a Stanford-USC basketball game can possibly provide.
But then the fouls starting mounting…and mounting…and mounting. The Trojans were in the bonus before five minutes had even passed. For a team who can absolutely not shoot the basketball, the charity stripe was about the only way they could get back in the game. Coach KO's squad was efficient at the line during the stretch - 6-7 in a two-minute span that closed the gap to seven points. If they had Matt Barkley, the Trojans would really be in business…
You can't wear No. 7 in college basketball; "2" is as close as you get to looking like "7", and Greg Allen did his best to deliver long bombs for the USC offense, hitting a three to cut the lead to four. Then it was time for the actual quarterback of the Trojan basketball attack to penetrate the Cardinal defense and score, score. Maurice Jones' layup made it a 35-33 game with 11:25 to play.
Stanford damn near turned it over on its next possession, too. After Bright got hacked a couple of times, the sophomore from Bellevue finally got away from the fray and found Josh Owens on the left block for a "get the hell out of my way" thunderous slam to quell the spell.
Turns out that Owens dunk was the beginning of the end for the home team. USC would have a chance to cut back into the Cardinal advantage, but Greg Allen went 0-2 from the line, and that's when the initial daggers came in the form of two Chasson Randle three-balls to make it a 12-point lead. That second three-pointer was, as Marques Johnson put it, a heat check. Looks like he was still on fire.
USC still had some fight left in ‘em on offense with a Byron Wesley trey (by the way, this kid was a stud tonight for the Trojans and is a pretty fearless player) and another three by Greg Allen (who really is their only consistent outside shooter). But Stanford would answer each time, first with a Dwight Powell jumper and then 2-2 from the stripe for Zimmermann, who had a great second half. "Z" really did a good job of sealing his man on the block and getting some easy looks down low as the game wore on.
With the score at 50-39 and the clock at 5:06, the game was in good shape for Stanford. Eleven points in five minutes is a lot to ask of the 2011-12 Trojan offense (though they did score 15 in a six-minute stretch earlier in the half). But just in case, Randle felt it necessary to put the nail in the coffin for good. He twisted the knife in USC's heart with a steal and breakaway layup to make it a 15 point game, and then took it out to officially kill the Trojans with another three that made it 59-39.
Streak over. Finally.
Outside of that one six-minute stretch where the Trojans put up 15, the Cardinal were very solid defensively. Stanford was more than content to let USC shoot from the outside, and the use of the 1-2-2 zone really gave the Trojans a lot of trouble. True, USC is horrendous on the offensive end, but the Farm Boys still held USC to 31 percent shooting for the game and four points below their conference average.
What was more impressive was the rebounding. It's one thing to outrebound a team by 26; it's another thing to hold the opponent to one offensive rebound for the whole game. I don't care how depleted USC is up front; you think you could luck your way into three or four offensive rebounds over the course of 40 minutes. And somehow, despite being in a zone for good portions of the game, the Cardinal didn't let USC clean up their own misses.
The offense looked a lot crisper in the second half, and that was a direct result of Chasson Randle picking up his game. It's no coincidence that Stanford's two road wins in conference have come when Randle has been the best player on the floor in the second half (and overtime, in the case of the Oregon State game). The guy really seems to have that "it" factor, and there was no way in hell he was going to let his Cardinal get embarrassed by the worst team in the Pac-12.
With the win, Stanford has ensured itself of a winning season and is officially eligible for real postseason play, but it will certainly take more than 17 wins to get an NIT bid at the very least, and almost definitely a sweep-job through the rest of conference play to become an at-large candidate for the Big Dance.
The path continues next weekend with the Oregon schools coming to town, and you know the Beavers will be hungry for a victory, especially after losing two at home to the Washington schools, and especially after dropping that four-overtime decision to the Cardinal back in January.
While the Cardinal have looked good against Arizona State and USC, it's time for a more legitimate win in conference, and next weekend will provide exactly that opportunity.
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