Stanford Can’t Rebuff Buffaloes, Fails to Seperate from Herd in Pac-12 Standings

DSC_0018 By Matthew Harrington

STANFORD, Calif. – That beeping sound you hear on Campus Drive isn’t the sign of construction and work trucks on Leland Stanford’s old stomping grounds; it’s the sound of the Stanford Cardinal backing into the Pac-12 and, possibly, NCAA tournament.

With a disappointing 59-56 loss to Colorado Wednesday night at Maples Pavilion on a missed game-tying shot at the buzzer, the Cardinal (18-11, 9-8 Pac-12) has now dropped three-straight games for the first time this season. The slump comes at an inopportune time as the season draws to its close and the selection committee reviews Stanford’s tournament credentials as a bubble team with an eagle-eye.

A tournament berth of in the air, Stanford entered play looking to avoid its first three-game losing streak all season after losses to Arizona State and Arizona last week. They ultimately couldn’t right the ship against Colorado (21-9, 10-7), finding themselves in foul trouble throughout Wednesday’s contest. Chasson Randle and Stefan Nastic finished the night with four infractions, while Dwight Powell finished the game watching from the bench with five personal fouls. Colorado made 17 free throws on 25 attempts, the same number of makes as Stanford had attempts.

“That’s very frustrating,” said Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins. “They shot more free throws than we did. We’re a team that usually gets to the line quite a bit. Unfortunately we didn’t get to the line as much tonight. They converted on a number of them. They made 17, we shot 17. That’s difficult in a three-point ballgame.”

Randle, despite the foul concerns, continued his strong down the stretch by sinking 9 from the field on 18 attempts, including 4-of-7 from beyond the arc for a game-high 24 points over 34 minutes. Josh Huestis came a point away from a double-double after pulling down a Stanford-leading 13 rebounds, two more than Josh Scott, Colorado’s top rebounder on the night. Scott also lead the Buffaloes with 17 points. Colorado won the battle of the boards 39 to 31.

“We’ve been out-rebounded the last couple games,” said Dawkins. “With our size and our front line that’s very disappointing. We challenge our guys. We have to do a much better job of rebounding the basketball.”

The two teams traded baskets and blows like prize fighters throughout the first, with neither side snatching a two-possession lead until Colorado’s Ben Mills hit a layup with 5:34 left in the half for a 22-17 edge. Stanford cut the lead to one with baskets from Powell and Randle but the Buffs outscored Stanford 11-7 over the final five minutes before the intermission.

“We were getting open looks,” reflected a dejected Randle on the Cardinal first-half. “We just needed someone to knock them down.”
The Stanford struggles in the first stemmed from poor shooting, as the Cardinal converted only 31 percent of its shots, including 1-for-9 from three-point range. Despite the shooting woes and Powell finding himself on the bench late in the period nursing three fouls, Stanford found itself fortunate to only be facing a five-point deficit at the half thanks to stout defensive work forcing seven Colorado turnovers.

On the poor shooting, Dawkins pointed at the defense first. “Overall, our defense needs to make sure if we’re not making shots, we need to make sure the other team’s not making them either.”

The Cardinal came back strong in the second half, holding the visitors to only 13 points while grabbing 17 of  its own over the first 11-plus minutes to cut it to a 46-45 Colorado advantage.

“Guys stepped it up in the second half defensively,” said Randle. “We did a really good job of bringing our effort and intensity, especially that second group that came in. We need more of that.”

The comeback was completed after a thunderous Stefan Nastic block on Xavier Johnson led to a Huestis bid for the lead at the other end. Huestis missed the shot, but Johnson fouled the forward on the attempt. Huestis hit one of two from the line to pull Stanford even 46-46 with 7:49 to go in the game. Johnson, who finished with 14 points, restored the Buffaloes lead on a jumper from the top of the key.

Red-hot Randle handed the home team its first lead of the half, 49-48, connecting on a trey, 3 of his 17 second-half points, with 4:50 remaining.

“We need more guys stepping up,” said Dawkins. “Chasson, offensively, has really stepped up and done what he has to do. We need more guys. It can’t just be one guy playing offensively. Our offense is built around a balanced attack so we need guys to step up and make plays.”

Colorado regained the lead and created some breathing room on three consecutive field goals, punctuated by a Xavier Talton trey to make it 55-51 with 130 ticks left on the game clock. Dwight Powell was then forced to the bench with his fifth foul on am offensive violation with just over two minutes to play. Powell watched as Randle pulled Stanford within two, his jumper finding the basket despite contact from Talton. Randle would convert the and-one play to make it a 55-54 Buffs lead with 1:12 left in the period. The Cardinal stifled Colorado with a shot clock violation with 45 seconds remaining but failed to take advantage. Colorado them hit four of six from the charity stripe down the stretch, setting up a Stanford a tying bid at 59 points aside. Randle’s three-pointer, potentially tipped on the way to the basket, fell just short of the rim as time expired.

The loss muddies up both the Pac-12 play-off picture and Stanford’s standing as a Big Dance bubble team (the Cardinal entered play in the no. 42 slot in RPI, a criteria used to determine the NCAA tournament field), what could be Stanford’s first appearance in six seasons under Dawkins. Of more concern on the Farm is where Stanford stands in the Pac-12 rankings. Stanford and Colorado entered play with identical 9-7 conference records, tied with Cal for fourth in the standings and a chance for a first-round conference tournament bye. Cal takes on Utah at home Wednesday night.

“I don’t keep up with that stuff at all,” said Dawkins when asked if he thought the loss hurt his team’s tournament standing. “We’re in a great conference. It’s so thick in our conference with competitive teams. Who knows what’s going to happen.”

Stanford continues its unusual stretch of facing unfamiliar conference foes late in conference play when Utah comes to Maples Saturday afternoon for an 11:30 am tip. The Cardinal will look to wrap up Pac-12 by avoiding a four-game losing skid on Senior Day before heading to Sin City for the conference tournament.

“That loss was very disappointing, coming home and having the crowd here,” said Randle. “It’s disappointing having a chance to get a first round bye. We have the opportunity Saturday, and we’re looking forward to that.”

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