MADISON SQUARE GARDEN, New York City
The UMass band plays the Sports Center theme – I like these guys – as we peruse some halftime stats. After all the sound and fury, the numbers on each side are remarkably similar. They’re 12-of-32; we’re 12-of-36. We’re shooting at similar percentages from both the three-point and free throw line as well.
The biggest differences come in the turnover column. UMass has six blocks, center Sean Carter accounting for half of them, while we have none, but counter with six steals and 12 points off turnovers.
We’ve played a relatively short bench, with Jarrett Mann, Josh Owens, Anthony Brown, Chasson Randle and Aaron Bright each accounting for at least 13 of our 100 total player-minutes. UMass guard Chaz Williams (seven points) has three fouls, so it’d be good if we could go at him early in the second half and sequester him to his bench.
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Our starting five start the second, but we come out in man-to-man, instead of in the 2-3 zone UMass found great success against in the last 10 minutes of the first half. We put up some ugly threes and Randle gets blocked underneath as the lead is now one. Gage checks in for Zimmermann, who was responsible for one of those abominations of a three-point shot. Overheard on press row: “34 [Zimmermann] looks like Ashton Kutcher.” Haven’t heard that before. We force a 35-second count though, and then UMass foolishly decides to switch to the full-court press that we carved up in the first half. We miss two wide-open looks on our first possession against the pressure, and then draw a foul in the backcourt the next time. UMass decides to stop shooting themselves in the foot and switches out of its full-court press. Neither team does offensively much these opening few minutes, as we play some ugly ball, but as has been the case throughout ugly stretches this season, our D keeps us in it.
16-minute mark: Stanford 38, UMass 35
Gage, Huestis and Owens are the posts as a Huestis hook increases the lead to five. I could be the post though right now, because UMass is ice cold from the field. The Minutemen finally do force a turnover off the full-court press, and they cut our lead to one on a layup under four arms – don’t know how that squeezed through. Chasson Randle picks up his third foul on a questionable charge call and then his fourth shortly thereafter, and we insert Jarrett Mann in his stead. We’re going really big right now, as it’s Bright with four posts in Huestis, Powell, Mann and Owens. It works as we get two o-boards before Josh Owens throws it in from underneath the hoop, and then Huestis responds with an emphatic block at the other end. “Let’s go!” Owens screams to his teammates. We again break the full-court press, though Huestis misses an open three. Zimmermann replaces Owens, so we’re staying big. UMass has switched to zone now, but Aaron Bright slashes through a bunch of UMass posts – they have matched our size with size of their own – as we push our lead to four.
12-minute mark: Stanford 44, UMass 40
UMass’ only lead of the game has been 6-5, though they did retie the game at 40-all. One potential red flag: we’ve already committed six fouls this half. We stay with our four-post lineup and continue to wreak havoc underneath, but then Andrew Zimmermann starts to play out of control. He’s called for a charge on one end of the floor, and then closes out too hard and fouls a three-point shooter. Coach Johnny Dawkins replaces him and has a chat as “Grizzly Zimm” comes to the bench. UMass ties it at 47 with an alley oop over Aaron Bright, and then takes its first lead since 6-5 off a corner three. Dwight Powell has turned it over several times against the full-court press to aid the Minuteman mini-run. Anthony Brown responds with a three of his own though, and it looks like we’re headed for a photo finish here
Eight-minute mark: Stanford 52, UMass 52
Seen on a journo’s laptop: “Both teams continued to shoot and handle the ball like the middle-of-the-pack finishers that they are.” Yup. But it’s nothing if not exciting, and both teams are playing their hearts out. Cute UMass cheerleaders and students, maybe that explains the poor shooting, at least on one side of the court. Going at the other hoop, Aaron Bright drains a long two, and then Anthony Brown doubles the pleasure with a long two of his own. This is just a pure slug-it-out testosterone fest, as we are seeing blocks galore underneath, no shortage of dives to the floor and plenty of wrestling matches for loose balls. Randle has come back with four fouls, and shows pure guts splitting the full-court press (Hint, UMass: It doesn’t work as well when he have a true point guard in) and coming within inches of drawing his fifth foul, but instead getting the layup and the block call. UMass has their hands on their hips and is starting to foul a good amount as they appear a step slow. At least today, we look to be less winded and in better shape. (Also, by the pure eyeball test, our guys look to be more cut.) We have pushed the lead to a relatively comfortable margin heading into the final stretch, with an Anthony Brown three a potential first nail in the coffin, as it pushes Stanford’s lead from five to eight.
Four-minute mark: Stanford 63, UMass 55
We are closing beautifully here, exactly what you’d want to see from a team after a close-fought game. For all the ribbing Stanford and the Pac-12 have taken this season, both have acquitted themselves rather nicely in postseason play. And how about Anthony Brown? He only had five at the half, but now he has 17 on 7-of-12 shooting, including 3-of-6 deep. Randle and Bright have both had breakout games late this season, and it inspires confidence for next year to see the final major player in Stanford’s backcourt have a breakout game of his own.
UMass makes a free throw to cut the lead to seven, but then Aaron Bright works the clock and gets to the line for a one-and-one. He coolly makes one, as Randle claps emphatically, and then the other. UMass won’t go quietly, literally diving to the floor twice to slap Stanford balls out of bounds, and then forcing Dwight Powell to call a timeout lest we turn it over on a five-second call.
Bright is hacked to shreds by three guys but makes another two one-and-one free throws. Might try fouling someone else, UMass. The Minutemen keep making layups, but we keep making free throws and the margin stays at about nine. But then it’s a circus UMass layup and a free throw, a steal and another layup and the margin is six; time for the slightest of perspiration. Dwight Powell makes one of two free throws and then goes to the floor to secure a tie-up. Possession arrow is ours, Randle breaks the press and gets to the line, and it’s all over but the over/under. We’ll see you Thursday night!
Final: Stanford 74, UMass 64
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