Pretty? Not quite. Dominating performance? I wouldn't put it like that.
But at the end of the night, the Farm Boys walked out of Maples with their fifth victory in seven games. I'll take the "W" and run.
The first half of the game was for fans of the Knicks-Heat rivalry of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s: aggressive defense and points representing a rare commodity. After 30 minutes, the score at the half read more like the scoreboard at Stanford Stadium. Josh Owens quarterbacked a three-touchdown effort for the Cardinal, which was one end-zone trip better than the Highlander's 14.
True, both offenses helped out the opposing defenses, and a good number of the 20 combined turnovers in the first period will not be committed come February and March. Still, both teams deserve some credit for the low score at the half; especially Stanford's. In addition to forcing nine turnovers, the Card did a great job of limiting Phil Martin's looks in the first half. Martin entered the game averaging a tad under 17 points per contest, but was held to just four points on 2 of 5 shooting in the first 20 minutes. Also, Riverside was only able to connect on 25 percent of their field goal attempts, going 6 for 24. A lot of looks were contested and many shots were hurried. Some of that could be chalked up to the "us-against-the-world" attitude the Highlanders' ball-handlers had, but the Card did a pretty good job of denying purposeful passes and only allowed Riverside to toss the ball along the perimeter. Eventually, the shot-clock would run low and either Kareem Nitoto or Javon Borum was left with the task of trying to beat the on-ball defender off the dribble and then get past another four defenders in white.
The Cardinal didn't shoot the ball much better than Riverside in the first half, but Josh Owens provided a lot of spark in the opening minutes of the game and scored the Cardinal's first 11 points. What I loved about Josh's outburst out of the gate was that he made no bones about what he was going to do offensively: he was going to get the ball in the post and abuse whoever was guarding him. He went left shoulder from the right block, he cleaned up his own misses and one time he just slammed it home when the rim was for his taking. He has greatly improved his mid-range game, which is essential for his skill set on his road to becoming a serious NBA prospect, but when you have that much of a physical advantage down low, you might as well use it to your favor. We've seen Josh's ability to score in spurts this season; his next task is to be able to sustain his offensive output throughout the game. But of course, he wasn't featured as much in the second half, and for obvious reasons- somebody else was heating up.
That "somebody" was Jeremy Green. After going 0 for 8 in the first half, Jeremy exploded for 22 in the second. I wasn't at all surprised by Jeremy's 22 in the final frame, but this 22 felt different. It's the best indication of his ability to take over a game and show leadership on the court. He knew his team needed him to pick up the slack offensively after only shooting 30 percent as a team in the first half, and he delivered. Every time Stanford needed a bucket, Jeremy delivered. When Riverside cut the lead to three with less than two minutes to play, Jeremy didn't shy away from the pressure. He put it on his shoulders to deliver the big bucket. He had a smaller defender on him in Javon Borum (who went bananas late in the second half and really kept Riverside in the game) and used his size to his advantage to get off a well-guarded jumper, nailing it from 17. After that, Riverside imploded and never got off a meaningful shot the rest of the way. When it was all said and done, Jeremy scored nearly two-thirds of the Cardinal's 34 second-half points.
This has become a trend for the Cardinal early in the 2010-11 season: struggle out the gates offensively and seriously pick up the pace in the second half. The Cardinal are averaging almost 10 more points per half in the second than they are in the first. Sunday night was no different. This will fly against low-major teams like UC Riverside and most likely North Carolina A&T, but it didn't against Murray State and Tulsa, and a slow start in a hostile environment like Hinkle Fieldhouse (where Stanford will be playing this Saturday) can be the kiss of death.
Another thing that contributed to Stanford's improved offensive effort in the second half was that they took much better care of the basketball- five second-half turnovers after 11 in the first. Even better, no turnovers for Jarrett Mann in the second half. He also quietly filled up the stat sheet: six points, seven rebounds, five assists and two steals.
Since I haven't had the chance to talk about it before, I will say it here: my oh my, how comforting it is to watch a Stanford team that rebounds the basketball so effectively again! Last year, the Card had to scrape and claw for every rebound and did a fantastic job in only being "outrebounded" by a half-rebound per game over the whole course of 2009-10. This year, you just know a Stanford player is going to come down with the rebound. They have out-rebounded their last two opponents by a combined count of 83-49. It's so great to have Owens back in the line-up, Dwight Powell is already living up to his four-star reputation and Andrew Zimmermann has taken major strides offensively. While they haven't faced the stiffest competition so far, the Pac-10 isn't going to be that much tougher in the big man department (or any other department, for that matter). Washington has Bryan-Amaning and Aziz N'Diaye, Arizona has Derrick Williams and UCLA has Josh Smith, but that's about it. I'll take Owens, Powell, Trotter and the rest against those other Pac-10 frontcourts any day of the week.
That's it for this game. It wasn't the Card's best performance by any stretch of the imagination, but a win is a win. It's always better to get teaching points out of a win than a loss to a low-major squad. Also, it was their first game back from finals week. It's not an excuse, but the Cardinal have historically had trouble after the lay-off. Four years ago, they lost their "return-to-action" game 62-46 to Santa Clara after shooting 4 for 27 and scoring just 12 points in the first half.
adjustments will Stanford make for their upcoming tilt with North Carolina
A&T? Come out to Maples Pavilion Wednesday night,
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