Late yesterday afternoon the Stanford Basketball team boarded a bus behind
Maples Pavilion and headed to the airport for their first Pac-10 road trip of
the year. There is no question the Arizona schools present the toughest
roadie of the year for the red-hot Cardinal, and that starts tonight.
While most Cardinalmaniacs™ have their bifocals tilted for a clear view of
Saturday's Tussle in Tucson, tonight's game in Tempe is a serious test.
And let's remember that when Monty's Men made their trek to the Cactus State a
year ago, it was the affair in Wells Fargo Arena that came down to the final
seconds with much more drama and fear than the matchup in McKale.
"Historically it makes no sense for us to put all of our attention into
Arizona [on Saturday]," Mike Montgomery explains. "We gain
nothing by playing poorly versus Arizona State and then playing up for
Of course at the center of the Sun Devils' lineup is sophomore big man Ike Diogu. He leads the conference with 23.7 points per game scoring, is #4 in
rebounding (9.0 per game), #2 in blocks and rising fast (2.5 per game) and #10
in free throw shooting (82%). He remains much like what we saw a year ago
- a player who is a beast in the paint and gets to the free throw line with
truly incredible frequency (111 attempts - more than double the highest for a
Stanford player) whenever he doesn't score. We saw hints last year of his
shooting range, though, which makes him even more lethal.
"They're moving people around a little more," Montgomery says of
the Sun Devil coaches. "They're tired of being defended a certain
way. They're starting to put two bigs out there on the floor and move Ike
[Diogu] away from the basket. 24 [points per game] means he can get
35. We really need to limit his touches."
To be fair to Stanford's chances, though, the Cardinal have neutralized some
very good big men this year. I personally predicted that Kansas' Wayne Simien would be too much to handle, and the world thought Gonzaga's Ronny Turiaf
would go crazy. How does the defensive challenge tonight against Diogu
stack up against those two battles?
"Ike probably has a better knack for scoring," Stanford's head man
postulates. "That's not to say he is more skilled. He just has
a knack to score or get fouled a lot."
As reported by our sister site on TheInsiders network, DevilsDigest.com,
ASU will add one very talented player tonight as they get the first regular
season game of Serge Angounou, a long and athletic 6'8" forward from
Cameroon by way of New Mexico. Angounou was one of the "Big
Three" that Rob Evans recruited for his master plan of ASU interior
dominance two years ago. The other two were Ike Diogu and Matt Haryasz. Even if you have not seen Angounou play (he had season-ending
knee surgery early last year), you can understand the level of player who could
be unveiled tonight. While a mid-season first game for a previously
injured player is a wild card, remember what Stanford got out of Josh Childress
a week ago in his first 2003-04 game.
Speaking of which, Childress has kept Stanford fans rubbing their lucky
rabbit's feet for good health and safety as he comes back from the stress
reaction in his left foot. He was dazzling in his seven-minute debut
against Washington State, with 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting, two boards, a
blocked shot and some lockdown defense. Though afterward he reported
soreness in the arch of his foot. The uneducated fan might take that as
cause for great concern, but Childress was quick to differentiate that soreness
from what he endured with the stress reaction. This was simply a foot
getting used to running and jumping for the first time in seven weeks.
An important second data point came after Sunday's Washington game, when
Childress played 13 minutes and pulled down five big boards. He did
struggle a little on offense, shooting just 2-for-6 and looking awkward at
"I was totally rushing things in the Washington game," he explains
to The Bootleg. "I was so anxious to get back to where I once
was - as fast as I could. But this week should be good. I've calmed
down and think I'm ready to just play my game."
On the medical front, there was good news that far outshadowed any offensive
hiccup in his second game. He reports that he experienced no pain at all
after that game, or at any time this week. And while you may see his 13
minutes on Sunday as his biggest "test" to date, Mike Montgomery
practices this week have put him through far more.
"We hardly did anything last week in practices," Childress
admits. "Tuesday and Wednesday we went pretty hard and I did
everything. I've felt fine and my foot hasn't been sore at all. I do
think I'm still a bit cautious on the court, though."
So cut to the chase - how many minutes can the jumpin' junior play tonight in
Tempe, and then Saturday in Tucson?
"It's up to Coach [Montgomery]," the combo forward answers.
"The doctors told me they needed to see what I could do this week, and if
nothing is hurting with my foot, then I'm completely cleared for anything."
Do not expect Childress to start tonight, as Montgomery still has much he
needs to see from his recently injured player.
"You know me - I don't worry about starting too much," the head
coach begins. "Josh needs to earn his starting job. He won't be
in the shape he needs to be until February, probably. He was out seven
weeks without running."
But as Childress sees his minutes climb, there is the question of where you
reposition Nick Robinson. He has demonstrated repeatedly his unmatched
contributions to this team with hustle, rebounding, defense and at times
scoring. You can't pull this guy off the floor. So with the
observation the other game of Robinson playing a couple minutes as the shooting
guard, is that a direction we could see ahead for the 6'7" athlete?
"I'm not sure how much help we need there," Montgomery
answers. "I don't know that shooting-wise we wouldn't be better with
Dan Grunfeld and Matt Lottich at that position. If we need to go small and
handle the ball athletically, we could put Nick at the 'four' though."
- Can you believe Stanford has won 11 straight already against the Solar Satans?
- Tim Morris is now practice almost exclusively at the off-guard position
and is loving it. Watch out next year...
- Freshman two-sporter Evan Moore did not travel with the team, while he
sticks around for a doctor's appointment to check on his shoulder.
- Some fans have wondered about the evaporating offensive threat from point
guard Jason Haas, who has no field goal attempts through two Pac-10
games. Montgomery is unconcerned, however. "Jason is doing
fine," the coach comforts. "He takes care of the ball - he
can run the show. He will get better as soon as he relaxes.
We're better with Chris Hernandez and I think everybody knows that.
The problem is not Jason - it's what we do after Jason if somebody gets
- As experienced as this team is with so many returning players from a year
ago, there will be one key player tonight facing an unfamiliar test.
Freshman wing Fred Washington has seen two big neutral site games this year,
but says the true road experiences out of conference will pale in comparison
to tonight. "We've been to Irvine and Rice - but they weren't too
bad," the athletic small forward says. "This is the first
time an away crowd will be really bad. I expect the worst - heckling
toward us and huge cheers for all their baskets. Playing at Arizona
State and Arizona and beating them at their home - Coach says that's the
hard thing to do. We'll take care of business here."
- Fred Washington also talks about his offense and defense as we near the
mid-point of his first season. "I have a little better feel for
the offense right now," he describes. "I was a little
confused in the beginning. I'm also more comfortable with the guys
now. On defense, sometimes I'm stupid and get a little anxious.
I cheated too much against Washington. But what I like to do is lull
my guy to sleep and then let him make the mistake. I can do that
without cheating too much."
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