basketball exhilarated much of its dormant fan base with
spectacular defense during the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
Every tenacious rebound, every monstrous block, and every gritty
battle for a loose ball built a new sense of belief heading to
Memphis for the Sweet 16. The Cardinal, so fickle for so long, had
taken a page out of football's rugged playbook to send both New Mexico
Those were two good opponents and two excellent wins. It seemed as
if there could be some stability settling into a program that had
developed such an infamously mercurial reputation.
And then Dayton
arrived to spoil the party. And Dayton tore through
Stanford like a buzzsaw.
The final score read 82-72, but the flow of the game told an even
more frustrating story. The good ol' (two) days of swarming defense, tough
rebounding, and bar fight style basketball were gone in the blink of
an eye -- almost as quickly as Stefan Nastic
and Dwight Powell
crippled the spine of the Cardinal's game by falling into foul
One could argue that the Flyers' front line was less talented than
Stanford's. It was certainly smaller than the Cardinal's. But Dayton
owned depth that the California kids could not match and an offense
whose precision and efficiency made the Farm Boys pale in
Stanford had not given up more than 57 points throughout its first
weekend of play in the Big Dance. On Thursday, Dayton had surpassed
60 with over 10 minutes still remaining on the clock. They almost
doubled the Cardinal's assist total. Their bench ran circles around
Stanford's on its way to outscoring the Farm Boys 34-2.
Meanwhile, Johnny Dawkins
' squad spent most of the evening flummoxed
on the offensive end. The Cardinal's size advantage made for plenty
of ripe scoring opportunities on the low block, but they settled for
21 three pointers anyway -- and only made five of them. (Remember
that Stanford had wisely abandoned the three point shooting strategy
a game earlier against Kansas after only attempting nine from beyond
This was a game in which Dayton, the technically smaller team,
played decidedly bigger than Stanford. And that meant the Cardinal would have to mail in their
eye-opening run at the FedEx Forum. The curtain closed on this rousing
two-game tear, and only a whimper was heard behind it. A topsy-turvy
season said goodbye on an unsatisfying note.
It left behind a bevy of realizations and emotions, many of them
conflicting in nature.
There was the realization that Josh Huestis
, Dwight Powell, and John Gage
had played their final career game in a Stanford uniform. There
was the fashion in which the Cardinal had lost to eleventh-seeded
Dayton: spanked in virtually every phase of the game. But there were
also great memories of gritty wins against New Mexico and Kansas, of
crunch time success on college basketball's biggest stage. It all
added up to a proud overall sense of March accomplishment, albeit
one still inevitably entangled with the scepter of inconsistency
that has long frustrated this program.
In short, there was confusion, the kind that suggests Stanford
basketball remains in a state of limbo entering the offseason.
Moving forward, the bid to re-energize Maples Pavilion will demand much more
consistent success. Given the prior trend, it's tough to determine whether or not that's a realistic expectation. Dawkins does have a strong recruiting class coming in,
and a core of Chasson Randle
, Anthony Brown
, and Nastic will
remain intact next season to spearhead the push for more
improvement. The players and the staff both provided many positives to enjoy during this late season run to the Sweet 16, but the disappointing way in which it ended is a reminder
that there are still daunting hurdles left to clear. Dawkins' next season may well be the defining one.
David Lombardi is the Stanford
Insider for The Bootleg. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com
and follow him on Twitter @DavidMLombardi.
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Dayton's 82-72 victory over Stanford in the Sweet 16 has brought the Cardinal's roller coaster 2014 ride to a close. The Farm Boys never quite shook inconsistency this season, but there are some positives to build on. Here is an immediate reaction following Thursday's diappointing finish.
The Cardinal never quite shook inconsistency in 2014, though there is success to build on