I had visions of Air Force as I entered Maples Pavilion this afternoon (yes- afternoon. I'm doing a write-up for the Mid-Majority on the Fresno State-SMU game). It wasn't that I thought we were going to lose- I always go in to games expecting victories- it was just that the last time we were in this situation, we got pummeled by the Mountain West's Falcons 79-45. Dreams of playing Duke in Kansas City were crushed, and I was pissed that I had to work a couple of extra practices instead of getting some time off for Thanksgiving (I didn't travel with the team my Sophomore year).
And at first, tonight looked like the Cardinal were meant to follow a similar narrative - ousted by a Mountain West team from Colorado to deny our squad the opportunity to play a couple of high-RPI teams. The Rams came out strong tonight, hit open jumpers, passed with conviction and harassed the Cardinal O into plenty of early turnovers. Tim Miles' bunch looked GOOD. Wes Eikmeyer on the perimeter, creating space and hitting impressive shots. Pierce Hornung down low, finishing strong at the hoop. Will Bell, finishing off a couple of easy dunks and lay-ups. Before you knew it, CSU had put up 19 in the first eight and a half minutes. Twenty-three in ten and a half. And by that time? Shooooo-t. We were stuck on a dirty dozen.
At the under-eight mandatory timeout, I saw a tally of 23-16 on the scoreboard and said to myself, "I hope we can hold them to 39 by the break…No, 35…Hey, why not 33?"
Once the five of Harris, Owens, Randle, Nastic and Anthony Brown took the floor, something clicked defensively. The Rams would be held to that magical 33 by half's end and wouldn't hit the Kevo Mark of Futility Line for offense in a half (20) in the second. Holding the Rams to 25 percent shooting from the floor in the second frame is a thing to commend. As for the offense? Well, they did enough and executed superbly on a couple of key possessions down the stretch to secure the 64-52 victory over Colorado State.
Pack your bags for the Big Apple, folks.
Quite frankly with Stephen A. Smith, the Cardinal were as fortunate as Tom Brady and the Patriots in the Tuck Rule Game against the Raiders to be down just two at the break. The Rams had multiple chances at the rim to make it 35-28, but a bounce or two went the way of the Cardinal and it seemed as if it would st- BUT WAIT - Gabriel Harris to the rescue! His 65-footer brought me to my feet and prompted a few mentions of the phrase that the movie "Team America: World Police" made so famous. So much so that even my dad, who can make a sailor blush, told me to tone it down. In case you weren't at the game, here's the shot: Harris from waaaaaaay downtown!
Speaking of whom, this guy has made some strides this year. Sure, Gabe isn't going to have games like the one he did against Central Arkansas all the time this year, but he is still a ton better than he was as a sophomore. He's a lot more confident with the ball and tonight, in addition to that buzzer-beater from East Palo Alto, he hit two huge free throws down the stretch to put the game out of reach. The score at the time of his trip to the line? 58-52, just like it was for Jarrett Mann when he sank a crucial pair against Fresno State on Monday night. Most impressive stat for the Gab-Meister? Four assists, zero turnovers. One of those assists was a straight-up dime to Josh Owens at the beginning of that 10-0 run to close the game.
Before that run, Colorado State had reeled off six straight of their own to cut the lead to a deuce with three minutes remaining, and the Cardinal offense wasn't accomplishing much of anything. But out of the timeout, the Farm Boys responded to their biggest test of the young season in impressive fashion. How did they do it? Simple- they became the aggressors. No longer did the Card wait for a late-clock situation to arise where they could run their "4" or "5-up" action. Nah. Gabe got off an open jumper 18 seconds into the very next possession. It didn't go in, but it was a great look created by good ball movement.
After Greg Smith (the second best player for the Cardinal tonight, missing huge free throws down the stretch. It appeared like The 6th Man that showed up really got into Smith's head by finding a spot in the bleachers that made a particularly loud noise when being stomped on repeatedly) missed a three to take the lead, Harris fed Owens down low 17 seconds into the shot clock for an easy lay-in. After another good defensive series that saw an Eikmeyer turnover, Harris AGAIN found Owens with perhaps the best pass I've seen the ‘Bama Beast make in his Cardinal career.
Once again, Josh proved that when he wants to, he can take a game over. All he has to do is post hard, demand the basketball, and get busy. He realized as much in the most crucial part of the game, and it was his two buckets that put the cap on the Colorado State comeback.
This was a very good win; I'd argue the best non-conference win for Stanford since knocking off Virginia at Virginia in January of 2007. The Fort Collins Force is a team to be reckoned with. They are good. And yes, I tend to gush over non-BCS conference teams way too much, but the Rams are legitimately legit. They are clearly at least the fourth best team in a tough Mountain West Conference. And, after watching the Aztecs play against Baylor, it's not unrealistic to think the Rams could take home the bronze.
The very first immediate goal of the 2011-12 season has been met: get to New York City. Give yourself a chance to put a little spice in your non-conference slate. Play some high-RPI opponents on a neutral site.
The next task, after taking UC Davis seriously and coming out of Aggieville with a W? Getting some revenge on the Pokes. Well, at least hopefully it'll be the Pokes - I don't want to go all the way out to the Big Apple and play UTSA in the semifinals (no disrespect to any Roadrunners faithful, of course). Right now, we are to the Cowboys what Virginia was to us in recent memory: a check in the win column. It's time to break the chain.
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And 1: Stanford 64, Colorado State 52
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