It has been 400 years since I put on a Stanford athletic department issued
jock strap, but the memories are still excruciating of what it was like to lose
games your team had no business losing. My empathy for the current squad
after their traveshamockery against the slogging Utes on Saturday did a lot of
battle with my disillusionment and dissatisfaction with the state of
things. And my empathy lost on a late three-pointer, too. Now,
certainly this loss at Utah fails to register on the truly horrible loss-o-meter
of Stanford basketball, but, after the slaughter of the Buffaloes, the Utah loss
sure as hell hurt. Then, Sporty Illustrate decided to run an expose on the
‘Ruins of UCLA (rightly deciding to jettison the painted on game shorts photos
of Josh Smith from the Swimsuit Issue), and suddenly I feel a bit better
again. I mean get out of town, Reeves Nelson was a jerk and drank too much
and zoomed and boomed? I would never have guessed.
As we have seen all too often this year, when we shoot well we are really good, and when we don't shoot well we really don't shoot well (28.6% in the second half at Utah is bleck), and our defense and gamesmanship are insufficient to get us over the bison's hump. You can't get 15 offensive rebounds and yet score only seven second chance points—getting hacked and the refs choking the whistle is not a good reason for diddly squat. Chum the water up a bit as an old teammate from Down Under liked to say.
What was helpful to our offensive productivity was that we came out in Boulder, and sustained through halftime of the Yoot's game, and pushed tempo offensively with Randle at the point—not all out fastbreaking, but getting it up the floor quickly and looking aggressively at the secondary phase of transition. When we do this we are much better offensively, and we caught Colorado tired and unprepared for it. Anthony, Chasson, Dwight, and John Gage are each more effective in the secondary phase of the break than when we slog through sets. Utah struggled to find us in the first half when we scored 33 (on 45% shooting), mostly in the paint and mostly as a result of attacking rather than just settling for running offense.
One additional comment on the Utah game, because this really bothered me so much it caused structural damage to my living room. There is no way that with two fouls to give and Utah with the ball with 41 seconds that we didn't foul Cedric Martin with around 30 seconds left when he went to actually initiate the play that resulted in Chris Hines game winning three-pointer. That is, to be polite, a significant mistake. A much worse mistake than Dwight Powell getting caught too far off Utah's only legitimate three-point shooting threat. With two fouls to give, we should have fouled the moment Martin got across half court, forced them to run an inbounds play, and then done it again. You have to eat clock in that situation and just in case they do make a shot and you are suddenly in the hole, which is what happened, you can't have to foul twice with seven seconds left and lose two seconds of clock, just to get them to the free throw line so you can get the ball back. Rancid awful.
With all that said, Chasson Randle over the last four games has clearly improved, and he is now our leading scorer at 13.8 a game, on 43.9% shooting from the barn (good for 3rd in conference). He is more focused, he is more aggressive, and he looks like that rarest of freshmen, the kind that doesn't lose his legs playing heavy minutes late in the season, particularly late in the season in the mountains. His footwork on his jumper is tighter and his release quicker. Contrast his play at Colorado and Utah with the play of Spencer Dinwiddie of Colorado and you can clearly understand why Randle is the second best freshman in the conference behind Tony Wroten (who is actually the best player in the conference and he reminds me of Todd Lichti in how he seemingly gets to the rim on an entire team and then the ball rolls in and three guys look around saying to themselves "I can't believe I didn't block that"). Randle toasted Dinwiddie, put him in foul trouble, and then Dinwiddie hung his head and disappeared. Randle started both games in the mountains at the point guard spot in what I thought was a good bit of coaching by Johnny Dawkins, given that neither Colorado nor Utah really extend effective pressure against the point guard. Our lightening fast start against the Buffs was really a result of Chasson and Zimm coming out aggressively and with swagger right from the gun—and knocking down threes, pushing tempo, forcing fouls to be called on the road right from the start is good point guarding. Frankly, he started the game at Utah in the same mode as well and the first 10 minutes of that game weren't our problem.
Anthony Brown, who was inserted back into the starting line-up at the two spot instead of Aaron Bright on this roadie, was solid and started to show a bit of improved athleticism. Maybe the knees are feeling a bit better. He was very good on both ends against Colorado, but I thought part of that might have been Colorado just missing shots. And then Anthony flat played pretty well against Utah, getting 11 points, four rebounds, four assists, no turnovers and two steals in 32 minutes. Could he have been better on defense in that game, yes. If he had knocked down another three or two it would have been great. Where he needs to improve on his threes is getting his feet set better pre-shot. Being a languid athlete does come with this issue, but Anthony is a young sophomore that has been fighting his knees all season.
Aaron Bright has been fighting with consistency lately and Colorado has big quality guards, so Coach Dawkins clearly decided to release some defensive pressure off of Aaron's shoulders and see if the game would come to him. Against Colorado it sure did. Aaron took good shots, hit the open man for five easy assists, and he kept the tempo up and the momentum rolling. Against Utah, he forced too many shots and over-dribbled. Aaron has been one of our best players this season, and frankly has won some games for us. But, he can improve on his shot selection and his offensive tempo. He needs to learn, as does Chasson, to whip the team into the right rhythm and not let us languish around wasting shot clock, particularly against zones. Early recognition of situations where a trap might be coming or a zone might be coming is an area where this team, not just Aaron and Chasson, can get a lot better. Aaron was victimized twice by Utah when they went into a trapping defense and Aaron's teammates didn't recognize it fast enough, once leading to a turnover and once leading to a timeout.
Jarrett Mann, like everyone else, played solidly against Colorado. When he was finally asked to reach out and hack someone against Utah he deserves credit for getting that job done. But it infuriates me that a senior guard wouldn't just clobber someone with 32 seconds left in that game, just to burn a foul and make the opponent take the ball out of bounds instead of letting them run a play. Maybe that is asking too much though.
Wade Morgan. Dude, if you are going to be that bad, fake an injury, take a dive, sub yourself out, do something, and get out of there. I miss Kenny Brown and Chris Bonang and Warren Gravely.
Final Thought: Its two weeks late now, but I'd like to thank Jared Cunningham of OSU for being the worst dunker in conference history. I tip my Davy Crocket raccoon skin cap to you Jared. The Beavers are 5-11 in conference and maybe, just maybe, if Jared could actually get a dunk down the hole against us, we'd be tied with the Nutria at 7-11. When they fire Coach Robinson, it won't all be because of Coach Robinson.
Final Final: Funny thing this conference this year. We tank one at Utah, and cal, with maybe the best backcourt in the conference, and certainly a veteran bunch, gets toasted at Colorado after we rip the Buffs. Go figure.
Final Final Final: Redemption time on Sunday against the weenies. It is time for our coaching staff to step up and get us ready to not be surprised by run and jumps, double teams in the post, and fast breaks when our guards get out of floor balance. It's Senior Day, so Seniors go knock someone on their ass on your home floor one more time just for the thrill. As the old song goes, "Let The Bodies Hit The Floor!"
Final Final Final Final: Maybe I am the only person that feels this way, but we have to win this game. The weenies as conference champions is just ghastly and unnatural—it is so 1950's.
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