Stanford Trips Up Ranked Runnin’ Utes in OT

By Matthew T.F. Harrington

photo credit: AP photo Utah Kyle Kuzma tried to stop a Stanford forward Rosco Allen shot on Friday night

STANFORD, Calif. – Stanford has a habit of making New Year’s Day memorable whenever they take the court. Prior to Friday night’s contest, in its lone January 1st appearance in 1938 Hank Luisetti set single-game school records in points (50) and field goals (23). Nobody scored 50 points at Maples Pavilion Friday, but the game was a standout showing in its own right.

The Stanford Cardinal came from behind to upset no. 21/22 Utah 70-68 in overtime, opening the New Year and Pac-12 play with a 1-0 record.

“Our guys have a big heart,” said Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins. “It’s not always pretty but they seem to find a way to give us a chance to win. That’s all you can ask for from a group.”

Rosco Allen and Marcus Sheffield scored 17 points for Stanford (8-4, 1-0) to give the Cardinal its 5th win in game 6 of a season-long 7 game homestand.

The freshman Sheffield stepped up big for the Cardinal in his first exposure to conference play. He was the only bench player to hit a field goal, going 7-for-13 from the floor.

“Growing up as a kid, I always dreamed of this,” said Sheffield. “Now that it’s coming to fruition it feels good.”

While Sheffield’s dreams are unfolding in front of him, for his coach and teammates visions of the forward’s potential are shining through.

“I think that will do wonders for his confidence,” said Dawkins. “To have that type of game on that type of stage. We believe in Marcus, it’s why we had him in there. I think he’s starting to realize some of the things he’s capable of doing. I still don’t think he’s fully realized how good he can be. He’s starting to figure it out.”

“He’s a super smooth player,” said Rosco Allen of Sheffield. “He’s really talented offensively. He has all the skills, all the moves in the books. He has the ability to take on guys one-on-one.”

While Sheffield wowed in regulation, Allen had an average regulation contest. The Hungarian-born baller battled foul trouble to produce just 10 points on 5-for-11 shooting. The senior turned it on in overtime however, scoring 5 of the Cardinal’s 7 points in the extra session.

“Rosco’s grown into that role,” said Dawkins. “He’s someone that everybody is confident in down the stretch.”

“I knew I had to come up clutch” said Allen. “We’ve done it before as a team, we did it against Arkansas so we had some experience with that.”

Stanford held Utah (11-3, 0-1) to 5 points in OT. But the Cardinal nearly didn’t make it to overtime.

Utah’s Brandon Taylor stepped up to the free throw line with 2 seconds left and the game tied 63-63. Taylor missed both shots from the charity stripe though and Stanford’s Dorian Pickens missed a heave at the buzzer to keep both teams knotted at 68-68 after 40 minutes.

Both Dawkins and Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak had to entrust major minutes to their reserves, with both teams finding their top players in danger of fouling out. Both team’s starting centers, Stanford’s Michael Humphrey and Utah’s Jakob Poeltl fouled out in the first 40 minutes. Poeltl was Utah’s leading scorer with 16 points but made himself unavailable for overtime after fouling out.

7 players in total, 3 from Stanford and 4 from Utah had 3 or more personal fouls in regulation. Both teams struggled from the free throw line, with Stanford going 14-for-25 and Utah hitting 11 of their 24 from the stripe.

“Maybe a little hangover from the Holidays,” said Dawkins with a chuckle.

The two teams engaged in a defensive dogfight in the first half, with Stanford hitting only 7 of 29 field goals. Utah was more successful from the field, hitting 12 of 23 would-be buckets but the Cardinal forced 10 Runnin’ Utes turnovers.

“Both teams defensively played exceptionally well,” said Dawkins. “They average 82 points a game. I thought our guys did a great job with their effort and energy to slow them down a bit.”

Despite forcing the visitors to mismanage the rock, Stanford still found itself down 30-21 at the half. The two teams were tied 10-10 halfway through the period, but Utah went on a 9-0 run to break the stalemate 19-10 with just under 7 minutes left in the half. The two teams would trade baskets down the stretch, each scoring 11 points to draw the half to an end.

“It was a match-up zone,” said Allen on the Utes defense. “We haven’t seen a lot of that this year. Give credit to them, we haven’t really seen it and we were stumped by it in the first half.”

The second half started much the way the first half ended, with the two teams trading baskets to maintain a double-digit Utes lead at 44-34 with 13:22 left in the game. The Cardinal roared back, scoring 11 of the next 12 points to tie the game at 45-all.

“Our defense was much more active in the second,” said Allen. “We got a lot more deflections. That gave us easier shots on the offensive end.”

Utah would regain the lead, but only get as far ahead as 5 points. With Stanford trailing by 4 in the final 34 seconds, Rosco Allen slammed home a dunk. After Jordon Loveridge missed a pair of free throws, Allen hit a floater over a pair of Utah defenders to tie the game up with 13 seconds. Marcus Allen was called for a foul on Utah’s next possession, and with both teams in the bonus, Brandon Taylor went to the line for his fateful free throw attempts.

With a close win in hand to open Pac-12 play, the Cardinal now turns its focus to a Sunday afternoon match-up with Colorado, another conference showdown.

Our conference is one of the toughest in the country,” said Dawkins. “We expect a battle every single night.”

For now though, Stanford knows it can hang with some of the tougher teams in the Nation.

“When you win a game like that I think it shows the possibilities,” said Dawkins. “As a coach we can always say ‘We believe in ourselves. We can win games like that.’ Until you do, kids will look at you like ‘I hear you coach’. But when you win one you have a reference point.”


Stanford Snaps Losing Skid in Dramatic Fashion Over Utah, Ends Pac-12 Play on High Note

DSC_0004By Matthew Harrington

STANFORD, Calif. – With the overflowing talent on display on a nightly basis in the Pac-12, it’s only fitting that it took Stanford literally until the last tenths of a second of conference play to better understand its Pac-12 tournament placement. While the conference tourney picture got a little clearer, it’s still about as blurry as a Monet masterpiece from ten feet out. As for the Cardinal odds for making its first NCAA tournament appearance under coach Johnny Dawkins in six seasons, those are as crystal clear as the scrambled channels on the higher ends of your TV guide.

With a 61-60 win over visiting Utah (20-10, 9-9 Pac-12) Saturday afternoon at Maples Pavilion, the Stanford Cardinal broke a tie in the standings with their guests in a game with must-win implications. Also entering play with an identical 9-8 conference record were Oregon and Cal, a four-way tie for fifth in the Pac-12 standings. With Arizona State and Colorado boasting 10-7 entering Saturday, the Cardinal (19-11, 10-8 Pac-12) could secure a first-round bye in Las Vegas if Colorado, Oregon and Oregon State come away with wins in their regular-season finales. They could finish as high as tied for third, or as low as fifth depending on the rest of the weekend’s action.

“I know it’s important to finish at over .500 in conference,” said Dawkins after the game. “We’re in one of the best conferences in America. To finish over .500 should give you an opportunity to see what happens. That’s out of our hands. We just need to keep winning games.”

Stanford opened the morning with a heartfelt pregame ceremony honoring the senior stalwarts, players like all-time Cardinal blocks leader Josh Huestis and Dwight Powell, but after 40 minutes of basketball it was a junior, Chasson Randle, being lauded for his play while weathering the maelstrom of emotion.

“It’s a little emotional because of what the game meant and also because it’s Senior Day,” said Dawkins. “There’s a lot of family here. Senior Day is always interesting because of all the emotion. Our guys remained focus, stepped up and helped, the Chasson Randles, the Marcus Allens. I thought those guys really stepped up and helped the seniors.”

After an eye-popping 24-point night Wednesday in a loss to Colorado, Randle dropped 22 points over 39 minutes of play against the Utes, snapping Stanford’s season-high three-game losing streak to wrap up the last home game of the regular season.

“Chasson’s played terrific for us,” said Dawkins. “He’s doing everything for us. He scores. He makes guys better on our team based on how he goes out there and approaches it. I love coaching him. I’m proud of him because of the bounce back he had from last year. It says a lot about him, about his character, about who he is.

NBA draft hopeful Dwight Powell found himself in foul trouble for the second-straight game in a row, playing only 26 minutes Saturday after the forward saw action in only 24 Wednesday. He managed seven points on 3-of-8 shooting to accompany five rebounds. Stefan Nastic owned the paint in his absence, going 6-for-6 from the field to finish with 14 points. Guard Brandon Taylor led the Runnin’ Utes charge with 14 points, while fellow guard Delon Wright and center Dallin Bachynski notched 12 and 10 respectively.

Despite hitting over 55.6 percent of shots in the first half, Utah found itself trailing the Cardinal 33-25. Stanford made 14 shots on 31 attempts, only four fewer makes than Utah’s 18 attempts in the first. The Cardinal never trailed over the first 20 minutes of play, scoring on a Powell jumper 34 seconds in to take the 2-0 lead. Stanford outscored the Utes 27-16 over the first 14-plus minutes of play for the largest lead of the afternoon, but Utah finished the half with a 9-6 run to head into intermission trailing 33-25.

The Utes opened the second half with back-to-back field goals, including a Jordan Loveridge three, to cut the Cardinal lead to 33-30 just 1:05 in. It would be over ten minutes before either side made consecutive attempts from the floor after going nearly shot-for-shot when Nastic and Randle finally dropped consecutive jumpers to bolster Stanford’s edge 52-43. Nastic then took a Randle feed to the rim for a 11-point gap with 7:51 left in regulation.

“It was frustrating,” said Nastic. “We knew we had to come out with a higher energy level but for whatever reason, there were plays were weren’t making that the other team was making. It was very frustrating but we’ve been through a lot this season sticking together. We really tried to seize the opportunity at hand.”

Persistent Utah refused to yield with Wright and Taylor hitting shots from beyond the arc then Jeremy Olsen laid one up to cut the deficit to three points for the second time in the half. Randle made a pair from the stripe after Bachynski fouled the guard, but Olsen hit a jumper with 4:34 left in the half to make it 56-53. Nastic would hit one of two shots after Olsen fouled him on the floor with Stanford in the Bonus but Taylor ’s shot from downtown at the other end put Utah within one, the closest Utah disadvantage up to that point. Bachynski then hammered home the Utes first lead of the day, 58-56, with a heavy dunk after an offensive board 2:40 from a win.

Huestis responded at the other end with a three to put the Cardinal up by two with 180 seconds remaining before Bachynski hit a pair of free throws to knot the game at 60 just 55 seconds from the final buzzer. Powell drew a foul with 36 seconds remaining and hit one of two freebies, the eventual game-winner, for a 61-60 edge. In total, Stanford hit only four of ten free throws over the closing five minutes.

“Utah is a very good basketball team,” said Dawkins. “They’ve been on the road, they’ve won six out of their last eight games. We knew it was going to be a tough game, we knew it was going to come down to the wire. Defensively, we got the stops that we needed. It offset some of the free throws we missed. Our guys didn’t hang their heads.”

With the shot and game clock down to one second, Brandon Taylor turned the ball over on a traveling call, seemingly icing the game for Stanford. Powell couldn’t find a way to inbound the ball, turning it over with .8 seconds of play, breathing new life into the Utes comeback bid. They would fail to get the ball back in play for a desperation heave, firing the inbound pass into two Stanford players’ grasp as time expired.

Dawkins predicted this game would be close, but even he had no clue how slim the margin of victory would be when he gathered his team at center court Friday to address some of his players for the last time on Stanford’s home floor.

“We stood at center court yesterday with the seniors,” said Dawkins. “I said ‘You know what, the game is about finding a way, finding a way to win, whatever it takes. All through your lives, you guys have worked hard. You worked hard to get into Stanford academically. You worked hard to play at this level in the Pac-12. It feels good because you were able to do something hard. The things you appreciate most as a player, as a coach, as a human being are the things where you had to fight and to struggle to make something work.’ It’s only fitting to win that way tonight.”

For now, Stanford will be scoreboard-watching as it waits to see who will try their luck against in the Cardinal in Las Vegas this Wednesday, or potentially Thursday if the cards fall just right for a first-round Stanford bye. With eyes on an uncertain bid for March Madness, Dawkins’ squad will look to leave the desert the big winners in the bracketology jackpot. Count Coach among the rare few not looking at the big board with bated breath.

Quipped Dawkins, “I may be the only person in the world, but I promise you, I’m not paying attention to it”.

Stanford Scares Arizona, But Cardinal Upset Bid Falls A Basket Shy

By Matthew Harrington

The Stanford Cardinal nearly achieved what 20 other teams could not this season, taking undefeated Arizona (21-0, 8-0 Pac-12) to the brink Wednesday night at Maples Pavilion before ultimately falling 60-57 to the top-ranked team in the nation. The Cardinal (13-7, 4-4) held a one-point lead over itsPac-12 rivals at the half and had as much as a seven-point cushion over the visitors, but only two Stanford field goals in the final 10 minutes foiled the Cardinal upset bid.

National Player of the Year candidate Nick Johnson of Arizona was held in check by the Stanford defense to 16 points. The Cardinal also stymied another Wildcat on the mid-season 25 Players to Watch list, former Archbishop Mitty High School stand-out Aaron Gordon, to a scant five points. Stanford forwards Josh Huestis and Dwight Powell had 13 points each to lead the home side, while guard Chasson Randle pitched in with 12. The Cardinal finished with a 37.5 shooting percentage to the Cats 36, but Arizona’s six three-pointers to Stanford’s three proved a difference maker. Johnny Dawkins’ squad out-rebounded the top squad in the country 38-36.

Stanford dominated the early going, limiting the Wildcats to a lone field goal in the opening seven-plus minutes en route to a 9-4 lead before the visitors went on an 11-5 run to take their first lead of the night 15-14 with 9:45 left in the half. The two teams traded blows down the home stretch of the first twenty minutes with the lead changing hands three more times before a Randle jumper with two seconds remaining flipped the lead to Stanford 31-30 for the final time in the half.

Stanford picked up where it left off on the other side of the intermission, outpacing Arizona 18-12 capped by a Dwight Powell layup nearly seven minutes in to give Stanford its biggest lead of the night 49-42. The Cardinal couldn’t finish off the Cats who closed out the game on an 18-9 surge for the conference play victory, avoiding a defeat at the hands of Stanford for the second time since 2003 when entering play as the no. 1 team in the polls.

Stanford will continue its home stand, facing off against Arizona State Saturday before traveling to Berkeley to open up the second half of the Pac-12 schedule next Wednesday. The Cardinal lost to Cal 69-62 January 2nd on the Farm to open conference play.

Nastic’s Career Day, 79-62 Win Over Cal Poly Wrap Up Cardinal Non-Conference Play

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.”