Stanford basketball took Nevada to the woodshed and gave the Wolf Pack an old-fashioned 84-56 beatdown. Offensively, defensively, on the glass - you name the phase of the game, the Cardinal nailed it en route to their most complete performance of the season.
And so, the final verdict is in: the 2011-2012 Stanford basketball season has been a success, regardless of what happens next week in New York City, and regardless of what the thousands of empty seats at Maples Pavilion Wednesday night thought of the issue. Roughly 40 percent of the only 3020 fans that populated the Cardinal's home arena were Nevada supporters.
It's really a shame because last night's performance marked Stanford basketball's renaissance. Many of those who have derided the NIT didn't care to show up for it, but they will certainly be along for the ride if this Stanford team qualifies for the NCAA Tournament next year. They'll be singing a completely different tune if the Cardinal make a deep run in it two years from now.
Mark it down: there's an excellent chance that it'll happen.
It's just too bad that the school's entire fan base will not have been aboard since the beginning of the process. Great times are coming with the maturation of a young crop of guards and swing players and the arrival of high-motor, NBA pedigree big man Grant Verhoeven. But the great times started in a half-empty Maples Pavilion. Josh Owens, Andrew Zimmerman, Jarrett Mann, and Jack Trotter - the seniors who have laid foundation over four difficult years - deserved more their last time out at home.
Along with their rapidly improving underclassmen teammates, the departing four delivered a virtuoso performance. Nevada, who many considered to be an NCAA tournament snub, came into the game with intimidating length, athleticism, and physicality.
Stanford, however, was not impressed. The Cardinal wiped the floor with the Wolf Pack in all phases of the game. They shot 53.4 percent from the field, 57.1 percent from downtown, out-rebounded Nevada, and dished out 17 assists in a crisp effort. The softness that had occasionally tormented Stanford was gone; the Cardinal's putrid shooting performances were relics of yesterday.
Pivotal players like Anthony Brown, Aaron Bright, Josh Huestis, and Dwight Powell all wrapped up the three-game NIT home stretch in style, proving that they had been serious about using the tournament as a springboard to improvement for next season.
Even more importantly, the Cardinal's run back to New York has certified that this team is on an upward trend under fourth-year coach Johnny Dawkins. A poorly-handled transition from the Trent Johnson era got Dawkins' tenure off to a sluggish start, but last night's win validated Stanford's recovery. The team set a school record for home wins in a single season and made a 25-win campaign likely.
The season has been a success, but it's not over yet. The Cardinal meet UMass at Madison Square Garden next Tuesday with a trip to the championship game on the line. There will be at least one more chance for fans to rally behind a program that has come a long way to set up an act that is only now beginning.
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