By Matthew Harrington
At the time of the year when teams are piecing together the final bullet points of their March Madness resumes, the Stanford Cardinal did exactly what it needed to do Thursday night; It won. The 80-59 victory over visiting University of Southern California at Maples Pavilion didn’t captivate audiences like North Carolina’s stunner over Duke earlier in the evening, but Stanford still managed to finish just good enough to come out ahead against the Trojans (10-16, 1-12), firmly entrenched in the Pac-12 standings cellar, to continue to roll towards an at-large bid in the big dance.
The Cardinal shooting touch appeared to be more or a flail Thursday, as Stanford (17-8, 8-5 Pac-12) finished 28 of 69 from the floor, including a lackluster 2 of 19 from beyond the three-point line. Stanford turned that negative into a positive however, besting USC in the rebound battle 45-40. Stanford’s tenacious forward Josh Huestis led the boards barrage, picking up almost half (7) of the Cardinal’s 18 offensive rebounds. USC finished with 10 off their own glass. The Cardinal owned the turnover battle, forcing 18 Trojan errors to 7 of its own.
For Huestis, the night proved a memorable one as the senior stalwart notched a double-double with 11 points and while setting a new career-best in rebounds with 18. With his denial of a Strahinja Gavrilovic lay up two minutes into play the Great Falls, Mont. native moved past Tim Young as the Cardinal all-time blocks leader. Huestis finished the night with three rejections for a career total of 169, two more than Young.
Along with Huestis, three of Stanford’s other four starters hit double-digits in scoring, with guards Anthony Brown (13) and Chasson Randle (18) joining forward Dwight Powell (14) on the list of scorers with ten-plus points. USC guard Pe’Shon Howard led the Trojans with 13 points, while Julian Jacobs chipped in 11. The Trojans were without junior guard Byron Wesley, team leader in scoring (17.6) and rebounds (6.9) due to a violation of team rules.
The Cardinal suffered an early scare when USC’s Strahinja Gavrilovic fouled Powell hard in the head at the 5:36 mark of the first. Powell would leave the game but ultimately returned with about seven minutes left in the half sporting a headband wrapped around some stitches and a new number. Powell’s traditional 33 jersey, now blood-soaked, was shed in favor of one with a 32 stitched on back.
The preeminent fear after Powell’s injury was a continuation of dismal first-half shooting display as the Cardinal only hit 10 of 35 field goals in the first 20 minutes. They managed to hold a 32-23 at the half on the strength of their ability to force turnovers, nab offensive rebounds and a six-point outburst from Powell’s injury sub, Robbie Lemons.
The Cardinal finished the final 20 minutes with a much better shooting performance by outscoring the visitors 48-36, including a stretch where the Trojans were limited to one basket and three free throws made. With Stanford leading 51-42 7 minutes in to the half, the Cardinal went on a dominant 21-8 run till Roschon Prince hit a lay up with 4:17 left in regulation. Stanford coasted from there on out for the 80-59 win to sweep the season series against their Southern California rivals.
Next on the schedule is the University of California Los Angeles for a Saturday tilt at Maples, game number two of the remaining four games at home. The Cardinal also have two road games sandwiched between Saturday’s contest and a return home March 5th against Colorado, the final two-game home stretch of the campaign.