Editor's Note: The following blog/commentary offers the writer's "real-time" views of the on-court performances and decisions of our men's basketball team. In no way should constructively-intended criticism be deemed as a lack of respect or admiration for our team's obvious desire and commitment.
Pregame: Thanks for the clock delay, folks. Allows me to get all nice and cozy in front of the boob tube. Hopefully it will wear out those homecourt fans just a little bit. Two surprise starters: for Stanford, it's Taj Finger, alongside Mitch Johnson, Fred Washington, Lawrence Hill and Brook Lopez. They could have gone small with Anthony Goods or big with Robin Lopez in that fifth spot. Instead, they're going Goldilocks. For Arizona State, forward Rihards Kuksisks. With the men at No. 7 and the women at No. 8, it's the first time ever Trent's troops have been ranked higher than Tara's.
7:42pm: It's déjà vu from last game. Stanford's slow out of the gate and a Kuksiks three that Stanford doesn't close out on puts ASU up 7-0 early. The team still has a tendency to start road games lacking in defensive intensity.
7:45pm: First Mitch snaps Stanford's dry spell with a jumper, then he finds Brook Lopez for the layup. It's 9-4 Arizona State at the first media timeout. Hopefully the Cardinal can keep it close and not fall as far behind as the first time around.
7:51pm Ty Abbott grabs an O-board for a James Harden three, then a Hill turnover is an automatic ASU two on a one-on-none fast break. Guess keeping it close was optimistic, the margin's ten, 14-4, just five minutes in.
7:52pm Anthony Goods, into the game for Washington, as ASU was sagging off him in their zone, hits a big three to pull Stanford within seven, 14-7, six minutes in. Now that Law Hill's snapped out of his slump, you could argue that Goods is the one guy who has yet to take his game to another level from last year. If he does, and maybe this shot's a start, the sky's the limit for the Cardinal. Robin Lopez and Kenny Brown check into the game – hopefully Brown can exploit the ASU zone. (Why not go with Drew Shiller?)
7:58pm: Sure enough, Anthony Goods drives to his left on the left perimeter and hits a nice 16 foot pull-up jumper to force the Devils into a timeout and cut the deficit to four, 19-15, halfway through the first stanza. Welcome to the big time Anthony Goods! I can't think of a Stanford player who this zone D would benefit more. This is playing out like the first game at double-speed – ASU jumps to a lead in the first ten minutes, we start playing some defense and rally thereafter. Maybe we win by 30 then? Shiller's been in for the last few minutes, and stays on the floor as we come back from the under eight media timeout with ASU leading 21-15.
8:05pm: ASU goes to the well one too many times and throws the same backdoor cut to the hoop that Jerren Shipp beat Brook Lopez on for a layup two mins before. This time, Robin's ready and slaps it away, forcing a turnover.
8:06pm: ASU throws away a defensive rebound as two Devils fight each other for it – only to watch it roll out of bounds. It's not technically a turnover, but functionally, the Devils have turned it over on their last three possessions, though they still lead 21-17 with six minutes left in the first.
8:08pm: Jeff Pendergraph is having a big game, and it just got bigger, as he posts up Brook Lopez, draws the slightest of contact and the all-important second first half foul on Lopez with 5:21 left in the period and the score 22-17. Washington leaves Kuksiks wide open for a layup, trying to help out Anthony Goods defending Harden's penetration into the lane. 25-17. An open Hill gets the ball three feet from the hoop, but doesn't have the strength to power through the contact and finish the dunk. That lack of upper-body strength was the biggest knock against Matt Haryasz, and the biggest reason he's not in the league right now. Hill splits from the line and it's 25-18 ASU with four minutes left in the first half.
8:13pm: The cameras survey the stands and it's only about half full for a visit from a top-10 team. ASU probably has the worst fan support of anyone in the Pac-10 considering they're a legit NCAA bubble team. Ike Diogu, the last Pac-10 center as highly-regarded an NBA prospect as Brook Lopez, is watching courtside.
8:15pm: Trent Johnson is on the court and says something to the official that draws a technical foul. I'm pretty sure it's Johnson's first T this season. Glasser hits the pair and it's 27-18 ASU with 2:56 left in the half. The Devils keep pounding it down low, with neither Brook nor Robin on the floor for Stanford.
818pm: Hill misses at point-blank range, but Robin Lopez is there to grab the O board and draw the foul. He splits [we finish the first half just 2-of-4 from the line] and it's 27-19 with 1:42 left in the half.
8:22pm: A clunker of a half ends with the most artistic minute of the season. Landry Fields drives the lane and passes with his right hand behind-the-back to Robin Lopez for a point-blank lay-in, cutting the deficit to 27-21 with 52 seconds to go. At the other end, it's Robin Lopez with a block of Ty Abbott that even the Pac-10 scorers can't miss.
8:24pm: Stanford holds for the last shot and even calls a timeout to set
something up. Perhaps Coach J's trying to get his team those two points on the
technical back. It works, as the ball moves left-to-right around the perimeter
to an open enough Kenny Brown, who fills it from 16 on the left baseline to end
the half with Stanford down just 27-23, the closest margin since 4-0. Brook
Lopez leads all scorers with 10, and Jeff Pendergraph and Harden have eight
apiece for the Sun Devils. You have to figure a rested Brook Lopez (just 13
first-half minute) is again going to put this game on his back in the second or
go down trying.
8:41pm: Bingo. Stanford gets the first crack at it in the second, and they go right to Brook, who's hacked and hits two from the line. 27-25 ASU with 19:40 to go. No mercy, just keep going to him. Kuksiks hits a three over Lawrence Hill, late closing out on the corner deep ball a la his sophomore season, and it's 30-25. Anthony Goods misses another good look at a three [he finishes the game just 2-of-10 and 1-of-5 deep].
8:44pm: It's Mitch, Anthony, Hill, Brook and Taj starting the second for Stanford. Taj gets beat on the dribble by Harden – it's now 32-25 ASU two minutes into the half and Finger's getting knocked around in the paint a little. I would take him out for Robin Lopez, and maybe give Fred Washington another look place of Goods. ASU's scored six straight after a Pendergraph free throw. Make that eight as Pendergraph thunders down a dunk off an O-board. Brook and Taj both went for the block on the original shot instead of the box out.
Brook's forcing it up in the face of consistent double and triple teams. I'm
not sure that's a bad move though, considering everyone else's offensive
struggles. And yup, he grabs his miss off a Finger tip, and banks it in from six
feet out on the low right block, drawing the foul. It's now 35-29 ASU four
minutes into the second. Stanford's strategy is pretty obvious (as it should
be): go to Brook. But someone else is going to have to step up if the Cardinal
are going to win their eighth straight.
8:50pm: Robin in for Taj, alongside Brook, Anthony, Mitch and Law. We'll see if the defense improves – I think it might. Girlfriend: "They're doing double screens on us." And it's Valentine's Day. I must be doing something right.
8:52pm: Immediately, Robin Lopez makes his impact felt, converting on a lay-up off a nice pass from Johnson, and then getting fouled at point-blank range after Johnson forces an ASU turnover. We're defending much more aggressively on-ball and I'm loving it. Herb Sendek gets on the PA and tells the crowd to stop throwing things, for the sake of safety and avoiding an ASU technical foul. (No joke.)
8:57pm: It's all Robin Lopez. Stanford's on an 13-2 run as the "other brother" has scored eight in a row, the latest to give Stanford its first lead of the game, 38-37 with 11:45 left. We're a pretty good (about No. 15, in my opinion – I think we're a little lucky to be 20-3) basketball team with our sole dominant offensive threat Brook, but if Robin can keep playing like this – watch out! I'd make the Faustian deal with the Devil and trade a month like this from Robin for his junior year at Stanford, because we're Final Four-worthy with two All-American posts. Robin hits his free throw and it's 39-37 Stanford.
9:02pm: Landry feeds the beast by lobbing it to Brook, who splits the double from three feet away for the two. It's 41-37 for Stanford, who's scored 16 of the last 18. Great pass by Fields. I was thinking he could be the next (blank), but couldn't fill in that blank, because in my four years at Stanford, I've seen one excellent guard (Chris Hernandez), and a bunch of mediocre to good ones, but not a great one – like Fields could be if he keeps progressing.
9:06pm: Fields drives the lane, draws the contact on Kuksiks and hits a pair, and it's 43-37 with 9:21 left. Then, after another ASU possession goes nowhere (they've scored two points in the last 8:49), Fields gets open for a three.
I said someone other than Brook Lopez would have to step up offensively
for Stanford to pull away, but I was thinking it would be Hill or Goods,
Washington or Johnson, or even Drew Shiller. But in one of those seasons, one of
those years where every bounce is starting to fall Stanford's way, some of the
game's biggest plays are coming from two of Stanford's least likely sources,
Landry Fields and Robin Lopez. Fields has five straight points to his name,
complementing Robin's 8-0 spurt.
9:10pm: The Devils again go nowhere on offense, with Harden missing a chippie, and Stanford works it down to Brook Lopez for a layup. But like Berlin, Landry Fields takes my breath away for the second time today. He's a half-step ahead of Abbott on a fast break after picking Derek Glasser's pocket, so I figure a bucket's coming. But it's that Fields elevates from the free throw line and tomahawks it down with his right hand with such power that draws the audible gasp. Stanford's on a 26-2 run, let me retype that, a 26-2 run, as Landry Fields welcomes himself to SportsCenter and perhaps the starting lineup if he keeps this up. Fields has eight and Stanford leads 51-37 with 7:59 left.
Okay, maybe we are as good as our ranking. It's not our most complete game by
any stretch of the imagination, but our periods or brilliance were the most
dominant I've seen out of any Stanford team in my four years here. For a good
seven minutes there, we looked like we belong in the top five, we belong in the
9:15pm: Come March, keeping that focus up game after game for forty minutes is going to be a tall challenge for Trent Johnson, and it shows here as Arizona State scores six straight with Stanford's defense asleep at the wheel. It's 51-43 Cardinal with 5:45 left, so there's plenty of time left for Arizona State to punish Stanford for its bipolar play.
9:18pm: Brook, again, saves the bacon. He goes to the line on two consecutive trips down the court and hits three of the freebies to put Stanford ahead 54-45 with 4:35 to go. (An underlooked key to Stanford's success tonight: they finish a big 21-of-29 from the line.) The Lopez twins have 36 of Stanford's 54 points, and add in Fields, and that accounts for all but 10 of Stanford points. You need offensive productivity at nearly every position to win in the NBA, but can Stanford get away with a two or three-man team (with Brook and a teammate or two providing the majority of the scoring depending on the night) at this level? We'll see in a few weeks.
9:24pm: Kuksiks scores a garbage-time layup, but he'd absolutely disappeared when Arizona State needed him. Then again, so did plenty of his teammates.
Harden splits a pair of free throws to pull the Devils within 56-50 with 2:22
left. It might matter to the poll voters and the bettors, but I think Stanford's
still going to win – just by a deceptively thin margin. Mitch does his part to
protect the first half of that sentence – the victory – by stripping Harden, yet
another Stanford takeaway on the evening.
9:27pm: Brook Lopez splits a pair and then Kuksiks makes it interesting by popping off a screen and draining a three from the left arc. Timeout ASU and it's 57-53 Stanford with 1:37 left. If I'm Stanford, it's time to get my good free throw shooters in there the next possession (take out Robin Lopez on the offensive end – Brook, Anthony, Mitch and Landry are all fine).
9:30pm: Landry drives and misfires at the buzzer on a possession where Stanford runs its stall offense for the first 20 seconds of the shot clock, and Robin can't hang onto the o-board while falling out of bounds. Kuksik misses an encore three and Mitch is fouled and splits a pair to put Stanford ahead 58-53 with 43 seconds left, but then Abbott nails an open three from the left baseline. The breakdown in perimeter defense is uncharacteristic and inexcusable given the score, now 58-56 Stanford with 33.4 to go. You knew ASU was going to put up the three.
9:33pm: What happens next is even more inexcusable. LF wisely calls a timeout to avoid a five-second call on the in-bounds and TJ somehow keeps Robin Lopez, his second-worst free throw shooter behind Fred of anyone who plays non-garbage minutes out there. Unsurpisingly, Robin Lopez gets hacked and misses the first. He's very lucky to hit the second free throw – it's never a good sign when the freebies are hitting the backboard on their way down, but now it's just 59-56 Stanford with 26.2 to go. An awful mental mistake from the Stanford bench. That same bench also has to shoulder some of the blame for the lapses in focus in this game and many others on the road.
9:35pm: We're guarding the three much too tightly, and Harden drives past Landry Fields for an uncontested layup – Mitch Johnson backs down to avoid a potential game-tying and-one. Brook Lopez gets the ball and the foul (Pendergraph's fifth), but it's just 59-58 with 14.6 to go. This is much, much closer than it should have been. Brook Lopez leaves his first well short, and, like his brother, uses the backboard (via the front rim) to drop the second. Harden drives down low, we seem reluctant to play tough D for fear of fouling, and he hits the game-tying lay-in – contested, but from just five feet out, with 6.2 seconds to go.
We don't call a timeout to set up a last-second shot. Trent Johnson's 0-for-4 and counting. Anthony Goods loses the handle and turns it over instead of putting up a three as the clock expires at a mighty disappointing tie at the end of regulation, 60-all. We still have the edge with Pendergraph out with five fouls and Kussiks with four, and it would be a great testament to the team not to fold and pull away with the win.
But perhaps it would be better for the team to get burned and drop one here,
so they learn that they need to stop playing with fire and start boxing out and
defending just as intently whether they're on the road, against a weaker
opponent, or ahead by 14 with eight minutes left. Kuksiks fouls out with 15
points and Robin Lopez splits a pair to kick off
9:42pm: Again Harden drives and converts a tough shot around the twins down low. He's at 17, and has scored the Devils' last six. Brook counters with a bank in as Stanford retakes the lead, 63-62. But then it's Harden, who's abusing Fields, driving with his left, and not getting called for the travel but a defensive foul on Fields. The bucket and the free throw drop and ASU leads 65-63 with four minutes to go in overtime. Hill replaces Fields.
9:44pm: Brook Lopez draws a whistle on Eric Boateng, Pendergraph's replacement, and hits both free throws to retie the game at 65 with 3:51 left in overtime. On the other end, Harden gets blocked twice down low but draws another questionable foul, this one on Hill. He splits the pair, and it's 66-65 Devils with 3:24 to go.
9:45pm: Hill throws it away, five feet wide of Brook Lopez, in a game to forget for him. The ball goes to Harden on the other end – he's scored ASU's last 12 now that he absolutely shakes Hill, drives the lane, draws the contact on Hill, and hits both his free throws.
Trent Johnson is bungling this – and right now he really needs to bring in Fred Washington. Two points explicitly on the first-half technical, and countless more benching Brook with five minutes left in the first, keeping Robin out in an obvious foul situation late in regulation, not calling a timeout with six seconds left in regulation and, oh yeah, not bringing in Fred Washington to guard Harden, the guy who has scored 12 straight ASU points in just 2:19 of game time. That's an 111-point pace in a 40-minute game. What is the critical value? A 20-0 run? A 200-point pace? Washington better be injured, because any other decision is inexcusable.
Now Stanford's got Goods on Harden, who holds the point of attack and comes
up with a big strip late in the shot clock. Stanford gets it knocked
out-of-bounds twice on their next possession and never gets a good look at the
hoop. Did I mention really poor game management? Add lack of offensive movement
at key points in the game. Stanford forces an in-bounds with one second left on
the clock into ASU's arms. 1:25 left, ASU 68-65.
9:50pm: In comes Eric Boateng with a huge offensive rebound of an Abbott miss. Both teams have 34 rebounds, which is inexcusable and lays on the players' shoulders. ASU in-bounds and passes it off to Glasser, think about that, bringing in your good free throw shooters with a lead and making sure they get the ball, and he's instantly hacked by Johnson with 41 seconds left.
9:54pm: Glasser splits, and then Johnson hits a huge three from the corner, closing to 69-68 ASU with 32 seconds left. Glasser again is fouled and goes to the line (we should try doubling the better free-throw shooters, or leaving the worse ones more open), where the 80 percent shooter this season hits the pair. Harden has eight in overtime and it's 71-68 ASU with 30.5 seconds left. We don't have Drew Shiller in the game. Wow.
9:57pm: Kenny Brown doesn't have the quickness to get open, and so 13 seconds later, ASU's called a timeout and nothing's changed. 17.7 on the clock, down three, still no Shiller (51% three-point shooter this season) in the game. But we do have Mitch Johnson (35% deep this season) and Anthony Goods (36% deep this season, 2-of-7 overall today). Sure enough, Goods misfires badly from NBA range (but with an open look and exactly at the top of the arc), but ASU knocks it out with 14 seconds left.
After the in-bounds, Mitch leaves an open corner three just short (what if it were Shiller with that look?), and Goods grabs the rebound with nine seconds left and three feet of empty space between him and the hoop. Take the open layup! There's enough time to foul! But Goods instead dribbles into the corner and launches a three with a man all in his face. Boateng, a 32 percent free throw shooter (why didn't we foul him off-ball?), gets the rebound and the foul with four seconds left and splits his pair. Goods airballs from halfcourt and Stanford suffers its most disappointing loss this season, 72-68, in a game it had locked away.
Postgame: The loss is a blessing in disguise for the players, who will learn to fight for all 40 minutes. But will the coaching staff learn from their numerous, numerous gameday mistakes? The deeper in the NCAA Tournament Stanford goes, the more the games mean and the closer they tend to become. Gameday coaching can singlehandedly win or lose those games – as Stanford fans found that out all too clearly today.
As a Stanford senior with a voice (I know players, coaches and the auxiliary staff alike read my Daily articles for the flack that I've gotten over the years from all those folks), I'm going to calm down, be polite, and print an open letter to Trent Johnson on Monday on gameday coaching. He's a good person and a great recruiter, but coaching in close games is a major part of why he gets to cash those paychecks, and right now it needs to improve. It can't hurt, and though I doubt it's going to make a change in an immediate "wow, Daniel, you're right, let me change my approach it's taken me 20 years to build" sense, maybe someone influential reads it, maybe an assistant reads it, maybe students and fans read it, and maybe this issue is one that the fan base makes a priority in seasons to come.
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