A Big Sweep with UCLA Looming

Chasson Randle's 33 points fueled Stanford

Stanford is on a three-game winning streak following impressive offensive performance against the Washington schools at home. Our basketball insider Andrew Santana still sees room for defensive improvement as the season's critical stretch moves to Los Angeles.

Stanford continued its recent winning ways Saturday night at Maples Pavilion, soundly defeating an out-manned Washington squad 79-67 to complete the home sweep of the Washington schools. The win is the third in a row for the Cardinal and moves Stanford into a tie for fourth place in the Pac-12 ahead of a showdown with UCLA Thursday night.

The Cardinal were largely fueled by Chasson Randle, who continued his torrid start to conference play (the Washington State blowout notwithstanding) by pouring in a career best 33 points against the Huskies. Randle completely dominated the Washington guards off the dribble, repeatedly knifing his way through the lane and then employing some nifty finishes around the basket around a Washington backline that admittedly offered little in the way of a shot-blocking presence. He finished 11-15 from the field, and outside of a deep three to beat the shot-clock and tough pull-up jumper early in the second half, did all of his work right at the rim.

When he wasn't breaking down defenders in the halfcourt, Randle did well to attack early against a Husky defense that repeatedly found itself out of sorts in secondary transition action. He earned several trips to the line in the process and finished 10-for-13 from the stripe for the game.

Offensive Efficiency
Randle has developed into quite the efficient scorer this season, particularly in conference play. He has an uncanny ability to finish in the lane for a guard his size and displays a great understanding of angles and body positioning in his attacks to the rim. Indeed, his production at the free throw line certainly speaks to the latter. He's clearly playing at an all-conference level thus far, and while he isn't your prototypical lead guard, he is as good a scoring guard as you might find in the entire country.

When Randle wasn't abusing the Washington perimeter defenders, the Cardinal big men were having their way with a woefully undersized Husky frontline. Washington started four guards and one big in Perris Blackwell, who is listed at a generous 6-9, and it was clear from the outset that the Cardinal gameplan was to work the ball inside. Dwight Powell, Josh Huestis, and Stefan Nastic combined for 38 points and 25 rebounds, with both Powell and Huestis turning in double-doubles. Powell especially was a force on the mid block for Stanford. He was quick enough to beat the Husky post defenders off the dribble when he turned to face the basket, and tall enough to simply shoot over them with his back turned. In fact, the overall post production could have been more, as Nastic missed a couple easy looks inside in the second half.

At day's end, then, the game actually boiled down to one simple fact: Washington could not even begin to guard Stanford. Stanford, it seemed, could get any shot it wanted, whenever it wanted.   We know how explosive the Cardinal can be offensively, but it must be said that the Huskies don't offer much resistance on that end of the court. Nonetheless, credit to the staff for creating a game plan that appeared intent on passing up jump shots for attacks on Washington's interior and and to the players for executing. Stanford shot just seven three pointers, connecting three of them, while making 24-of-34 free throws.

Still Some Defensive Concerns
If the Cardinal passed the offensive portion of the Washington test with flying colors, their performance in the defensive effort and execution categories was a bit more varied. In fact, Saturday night's contest at times—the second half in particular—felt a bit like Stanford's win against Oregon: a track meet with plenty of open shots to be had for both teams. The only difference was that the Huskies do not have nearly the weapons that the Ducks do. Washington was getting the open looks on Saturday night; they were just clanking them off the rim—over and over again.

Coming off one of their better defensive performances of the season against Washington State, Stanford came out focused defensively against the Huskies. The offensive scout on Washington is clearly that they are essentially C.J. Wilcox and four other guys out on the court with him, and Stanford did a very nice job to not let Wilcox beat them. From the tip, Anthony Brown did a very nice job hounding Washington's leading scorer. Brown chased him hard around screens and forced him into some hurried shots early, including an airballed floater in the lane. Wilcox, who came in averaging 20 points a contest, remained a marked man throughout; he finished with just 9 points on 4-of-13 shooting and never did get into a rhythm.

Waiting for a Complete Performance
The Cardinal maintained the defensive intensity for the first 12 minutes or so of the game, but then frankly seemed to lose interest in guarding for extended stretches soon thereafter. Again, this type of on again, off again defensive effort is something we've come to expect from this Stanford team. As such, we are still waiting for the Cardinal to turn in a complete defensive performance (in terms of effort and focus, if not necessarily results). Against Washington in the mid-to-latter stages of the first half, the lack of Cardinal intensity manifested itself most readily in the Huskies' effectiveness on the offensive glass. Washington may have been bricking jump shots left and right, but the undersized Huskies were gathering enough offensive rebounds and converting on enough second-chance opportunities to keep the game tight. Moreover, Washington guards not named CJ Wilcox were actually having moderate success driving the basketball. Indeed, it seemed as though with Wilcox bottled up, Stanford relaxed and let their guard down, with the result being a game much closer than it probably should have been.

With the Stanford man defense breaking down—due at least in some part to the quick Washington four-guard lineup causing some matchup problems for the Cardinal—Johnny Dawkins astutely switched to zone as if to dare the poor shooting Husky guards to continue firing away. The switch helped quell some of the Husky success, but after a good two-minute stretch or so, Stanford again appeared to get lazy, in the process giving up some easy buckets to Washington and capping a wholly uneven first half defensively.

The second half saw Stanford continue to mix defenses with accordingly mixed results. While they rebounded better, the Cardinal backline fared pretty poorly overall in the closing 20 minutes. Powell, Nastic, and John Gage were all separately bullied by Blackwell on several different occasions, and had the Washington senior post not picked up his fourth foul early in the second half, this might have been a different game. Powell also turned in his standard couple of ball watching possessions when playing the bottom wing of the zone. He is a solid on-ball defender, good shot blocker, and good to great rebounder, but at this point in his career, Powell is very poor defensively when the basketball is away from him.

In fact, outside of Robbie Lemons' continued strong and active play atop, Stanford's zone as a whole was pretty lackadaisical in the second half. That coupled with some poor transition defense and a rare offensive lull for the Cardinal around the five minute mark had the game in jeopardy with the Huskies down just seven. Indeed, that is always a drawback of a team that relies on scoring to win: any prolonged offensive slump puts you in danger of completely losing control of the game. Yet seemingly on cue, Washington missed a shot right at the rim, Randle scored 5 points in succession, and the Cardinal breathed easy the rest of the way.

Looking Ahead to Westwood
Ultimately, Washington just did not have enough on offense to make the Cardinal pay for their defensive mishaps. The Huskies finished 5-20 from three, and a good number of those were open looks. You wonder how much of those were due to a gameplan of making Huskies other than Wilcox beat Stanford, but the sheer number of uncontested looks is nonetheless concerning. Yet for all this talk of the uneven defensive play, it remains unclear just who in the conference will guard well enough to force Stanford's hand into defending for extended stretches as a means to win. Arizona and Cal are obvious answers, as they have clearly separated themselves in Pac-12 play thus far. But no other team really stands out. UCLA has been touted as the best of the rest, so to speak, and as such Thursday will be the next litmus test for the Cardinal. That being said, the Bruins fit more the mold of an Oregon than they do an Arizona. They are excellent in transition, but have struggled to guard as much, if not more, than the Cardinal has this year. To that end, a little defense will certainly go a long way in Westwood Thursday night.

On a final note, the broadcast crew noted that Dawkins was warned Saturday for riding the officials. Read that again. Often derided for coming across as, well, subdued in years past, it's plenty clear that Dawkins has coached with a more impassioned demeanor post-Oregon State. One can only speculate as to why, so we won't try here. Nonetheless, what is certain is that a team takes on the personality of its coach. Whereas you never got the feeling that any Stanford team has ever quit on Dawkins, you often wondered about its confidence, about its belief that it should win. Stanford did what it was supposed to do Saturday night in beating Washington and sustaining the momentum into the LA roadtrip, and, frankly, that's news because "doing what it's supposed to" isn't something Stanford has been particularly good at as of late.

 The Cardinal now look to UCLA, a team comparable to Stanford in terms of both talent level and resumé, with the opportunity to take another step forward. Take care of business against USC soon thereafter, and the Cardinal could return to Maples with the chance to finally turn the corner the following Wednesday against No. 1 Arizona.

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