By Matthew Harrington
STANFORD, Calif. – Away from the lights of the Barclays Center, removed from name-brand universities Michigan, Pittsburgh or Connecticut on the opposite side of the marquee, the Stanford Cardinal quietly tuned up for conference play with a 79-62 win over Cal Poly (4-8) at Maples Pavilion Sunday afternoon. Stefan Nastic set a career-high with 20 points for Stanford (9-3) on the eve of Pac-12 play and a showdown with rival Cal.
“I was really happy with the win,” said Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins. “I thought it was against a quality team, a team that’s going to do well in league play. We’ll benefit from having that type of challenge as we go forward.”
Cal Poly forward Chris Eversley netted a game-high 25 points in defeat, while Nastic ended the night a flawless seven for seven from the field and six of six from the free throw line in 26 minutes of play to top his previous personal high of 14 points.
“We wanted to get the ball inside,” said Dawkins. “Stefan’s really done a good job of getting inside and anchoring our post position. We want to go inside to him when we can. He did a good job of really producing for us.”
Senior center John Gage, coming off the bench to rest Nastic, dropped a tidy eight points on Cal Poly on a pair of threes and a field goal in ten minutes of play. He was also perfect from the field.
“John is a really good counter to Stefan,” said Dawkins. “He’s a total opposite to Stefan at that position. One guy is really more a face-up guy who can shoot jumpers, the other guy is a dominant low post scorer, so I really do think they play off each other nicely.”
“It’s always good to have a player like John,” added Dawkins. “He’s a terrific teammate. He’s a senior. He’s battled a lot of injuries early in the season. He pretty much wore a cast the first seven, eight games this season. He took that off during the break we had before finals and he’s really found his stroke again. He’s starting to blossom. He’s playing with confidence.”
Nastic, Gage and Dwight Powell (all listed at over six foot ten inches tall in the media guide) used their height advantage to pick apart the Mustangs, whose tallest player Zach Gordon is a six-foot-eight forward. Powell came a pair of rebounds shy of a double-double and, with three blocks in the game, passed Brook Lopez for seventh all-time in school history with 103 rejections.
The Cardinal frontcourt trio man-handled their undersized opponents in the post, drawing the focus off guard Chasson Randle. Randle struggled in the first half, with only one field goal in four tries and six points before igniting in the second half to tie Nastic for the team-lead with 20 points.
Stanford never trailed in the contest, leading by as much as 16 points in the first half before Cal Poly guard Kyle Odister nailed a trey with less than ten seconds till the hallway point for a 33-20 Cardinal lead. Stanford held the visitors to nine baskets on 35 attempts, including limiting Eversley to only seven points.
The Cardinal continued to put the game out of reach after the intermission, picking up its largest lead of the night with a 24 point edge on an Anthony Brown free throw with 5:45 left to play. Cal Poly would chip away at the margin, forcing Dawkins to put some of his starters back on the court late to ensure the win.
“You have to play for forty minutes,” said Dawkins. “We subbed out late. We subbed out with six minutes to go. Those kids kept fighting and playing. We ended up subbing our guys back in, some of our starters. That says a lot about their group.”
With non-conference play wrapped up and the Cardinal looking at a 9-3 record including an upset over no. 10 Connecticut on the road, Dawkins and co. have an idea what to expect from their squad when they take on Cal January 2nd for Pac-12 play at Maples Pavilion.
“I think the teams we played have really helped us prepare for conference play,” said Dawkins. “Our conference, from top to bottom, is one of the best conferences in the nation. I think it’s been proven by how preseason has gone for all of our teams. I think the way we scheduled is reflective of what we thought our conference schedule would be like.”