Send to KindleCredit: Stanford Athletics
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During the past week, the Stanford Cardinal made a statement that they might, indeed, like to be included in the March 16 roll call for Pac 12 teams making the NCAA Tournament. Stanford has flown under the radar so far, that is, before handing then No. 10 UConn its first loss of the season on Wednesday night 53-51 decision at Gampel Pavilion. Staying in the northeast, Stanford showed more tenacity in overcoming a double-digit deficit but falling to Michigan, 68-65, in the Progressive Legends Classic in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
After a pair of early losses to BYU and Pitt, it looks as though the Cardinal are starting to gel with a junior-senior dominated lineup that has four players averaging in double figures per game. The key is going to be who develops off the bench and how much playing time those players can consistently give coach Johnny Dawkins.
“Our kids have the will to win,” said Dawkins, in his sixth year at the Cardinal helm, “They have always had that. They are going to compete until the last minute. We are not going to quit. Even when we are down towards the end, we realize that we have been in these situations before and we can make a run. I am proud of our kids. They are going to compete. It’s just a matter of making it consistent.”
Credit: Stanford Athletics
It is becoming more and more apparent that as Chasson Randle goes, so goes Stanford. He had 22 points on 8-of-16 shooting against the Huskies, but was only 4-of-10 vs. Michigan although getting to the line 11 times. He scored 10 points, eight at the line in a 3:28 stretch of the second half to cut Michigan’s 10-point lead to 62-60, but Michigan stymied any other Stanford runs to pull out Saturday’s win. Interestingly, Randle put up back-to-back 40-minute efforts in both games.
The 6-2 guard from Rock Island, Illinois, struggled a year ago after a stellar freshman year. He has averaged a team-high 18.6 ppg. and 3.5 rpg. while shooting 52.1% from the floor. After an 0-for-5 outing from behind the arc in the 88-67 loss to Pittsburgh, Randle is 12-of-21 over these last five games. Despite his offensive success, he gives lots of the credit to the team’s defense as it held UConn to 31.7% from the floor and Michigan to 40.4%.
“It’s just a matter of us being aggressive on the defensive end,” noted Randle, whose role picked up even more when Aaron Bright went down to a season-ending injury in an 88-67 loss to Pitt, “Just being active, getting our hands moving, getting our feet moving and getting our feet moving and just hustling.”
Dawkins has also been pleased with the team’s defense as opponents only shoot 40% from the field on the year. He mixed some 2-3 matchup zone with his man-to-man in the win over Connecticut. This was enough to lock Shabazz Napier, UConn’s leading scorer, to 4-of-13 from the floor in 39 minutes. Both Randle and Anthony Brown frustrated Napier on the perimeter the entire evening.
“We have to be disciplined on defense,” explained Dawkins, “We have to know how the game is being called and adjust. We have to play defense without fouling. That is true anywhere. You need to know where you are and how the game is being called and adjust accordingly.”
One thing allowing Randle to work so efficiently has been the inside play of senior Dwight Powell and 6-11 junior Stefan Nastic. In addition, Josh Huestis has become more of an inside-outside threat at 6-7, so these variables are allowing Randle plenty of room to operate on the perimeter. Powell possibly had his best game of the year vs. UConn, with 10 points and 15 boards in addition to five assists and four blocks. Nastic then had 14 points in 21 minutes as he helped spearhead the comeback against the Wolverines.
“We want the ball going inside,” noted Dawkins, who has seen both his big men shoot right around 50%, “We have the necessary length in Dwight Powell and Stefan Nastic.
Huestis has been a stalwart on the offensive boards and is second on the team in rebounding with 7.9 per game,behind Powell’s 8.1. In addition, he has shot 49% from the floor while blocking 28 shots.
With January approaching fast, most of the talk has - of course - centered around No. 1 Arizona and No. 13 Oregon with Colorado picking up some votes for sleeper in the league. No one has spent anytime on the Cardinal until they came to the east coast this week. Now, all of a sudden, the upper-echelon of this league has garnered yet more attention, especially with the defensive effort this week.
“We’ve gravitated to zone a little more this year with all of the rule changes and everything,” summarized Dawkins, “But our guys make it work whether we’re in man or in zone. Their effort and energy is why things can happen out there positively for our team.”
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