The Stanford Cardinal, coming off a two week hiatus, came into tonight's matchup versus the UC Riverside Highlanders looking to shake off some of the rust after the long layoff. After a sluggish first half (outside of Josh Owens' opening frenzy of points) the Cardinal turned it on when it was necessary in the second 20 minutes to get the 55-48 win over their Big West opponent on Sunday evening at Maples Pavilion. Stanford is now 5-2 on the season, while Riverside falls to 3-5.
After seeing their double-digit lead whittled down to three after a Phil Wilson dunk with under two minutes to go, Jeremy Green hit a right-side jumper with 1:26 remaining to restore the tenuous edge back up to five. The Highlanders would not make another shot the rest of the game, although they did have a couple of chances to make it interesting, but could not get what they needed most due to the tough Cardinal defense.
Stanford shot just 35% from the field, but Green, who was ice cold in the first half, made enough of his shots (8 of 23 for the night) to hold off Riverside down the stretch. The Cardinal also out-rebounded the Highlanders 43-27, holding a 23-11 edge on the offensive glass, including eight from Owens who had a double-double for the night with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
"I think it was a great test," said head coach Johnny Dawkins after the game. "Give them credit...(they were) really prepared." Their preparation showed as they mixed their defenses up and flummoxed the Cardinal into bad shots at times. However, the good guys made enough of their shots, including six-of-none from long range in the second half, to hold their opponents at arm's length for most of the second half.
Green, who just two weeks ago looked haggard as he battled the stomach flu (GI-related), even collapsing after the overtime win over DePaul in the 76 Classic down in Anaheim, missed his first eight shots before making his first attempt of the second stanza. Stanford led by as many as 12 in the early stages of the second half before the Highlanders slowly reeled in the taller Cardinal. Riverside used a big three-pointer from Javon Borum to cap an extended 11-4 run over a 4:50 stretch to slice the advantage down to four, 42-38, before a long Green shot gave Stanford some breathing room with 7:55 left in the game.
"I try to take whatever the defense gives me...let the game come to me," said Green in the post-game conference. When discussing halftime and his thought process after getting 0 points in the first half, Green said he just told himself that he would be good to go by "trying to concentrate more," something that seemed more than apparent at times in his 22-point second half. Coach Dawkins told his junior shooting guard from Texas that "every time he shoots the ball, it's a new shot," which appears to have helped after the tough first half he shot through.
Both teams looked like they had not set foot on a basketball court for a while in the first half as Stanford took a 21-14 lead into the locker room at the break. Outside of Owens, who scored the Cardinal's first 11 points in the first half on 5-7 shooting, the Cardinal made just 17% of their field goals and turned the ball over 11 times. However, UCR made just 25% of their attempts and committed nine turnovers of their own to stay behind the home team.
Freshman Anthony Brown sat out the game with a sore side after taking a fall in practice before tonight's contest. His prognosis moving forward is unknown, but it is not believed to be too serious. Stefan Nastic also was not in uniform tonight and will be out "2-4 weeks" as he is suffering from a sore foot that happened "a few practices ago" and needs time to heal. An MRI showed nothing broken in the big man's foot.
The Stanford Cardinal will next take on the North Carolina A&T Aggies on Wednesday, December 15th at 7:00pm.
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