And 1: UCLA 72, Stanford 61

Kevin Danna brings his insights and observations from Stanford's defeat against the UCLA Bruins, 72-61, on Thursday Night at the Los Angeles Sports Arena.

The curse in LA continues.

After chipping a 16-point first half deficit all the way down to three, the Cardinal would come up short again in Southern California, falling to the UCLA Bruins 72-61.
This one was there for the taking, too. Despite sloppy basketball and poor first-half shooting, the Farm Boys were in this one. Up through the under-four timeout in the second half, the Cardinal refused to go away.

And then, much like the end of the Arizona game last Saturday, Stanford imploded. Out of the media timeout and down 56-53 with 3:44 to go in the game and eight ticks on the shot clock, the Cardinal had the ball sideline out-of-bounds. UCLA fronted everyone, denied any potential inbounds pass and got the five-count on Stanford. Lazeric Jones hits a three the next time down, Josh Owens misses a shot, UCLA goes up eight, Cardinal turns it over on their return trip, UCLA goes up 10, Stanford turns it over again, you get the picture.

For so long in this game, Stanford had withstood every UCLA spurt. Frankly, the Cardinal were lucky to only be down eight at the half. UCLA had a 19-2 run in the first half to race out to a 25-9 lead in which the Bruins could do no wrong and the Cardinal no right. Lazeric Jones and Co. were penetrating at will and couldn't be stopped; their first five field goals were all in the paint. It was looking like Layup City in Lob Angeles there for more than a second.

On the other side of the court, it looked like Arizona all over again, with the exception of the scarcity of turnovers the last home game had to offer. When Stanford wasn't turning it over, they weren't able to create any open shots for themselves after Zimmermann knocked down a couple of outside jumpers.

And then Chasson Randle happened. He somehow hit an off-hand seven-footer in traffic, followed it up with a three, and the offense really started to open up from there. The post-to-post passing was effective, resulting in a Dwight Powell and-1 later on in the half from a Zimmermann feed.

Eventually, Stanford settled down on the defensive end, holding the Bruins to 10 points over the final nine minutes and change of the opening frame. Thus, when Chasson Randle to hit a left baseline three right before the buzzer sounded, it was just a 35-27 game at the break.

Thirty-two percent shooting. Thirteen first half turnovers. Yet it was only an eight point game. It started to have the feel of the Oregon State roadie, where the Cardinal got down huge in the first half and cut it to single digits by 20 minutes' end.

Turns out it was only my wishful thinking, but that's not before Stanford closed the gap even further. The Cardinal started out the second half wonderfully, forcing a turnover on UCLA's first possession, which Stanford finished off on the other end in transition thanks to a Chasson Randle and-1 to cut the lead to five. The second half would be played mostly in that three-to-ten point range until UCLA's 10-0 run late.

Stanford didn't let UCLA go on that killer run for much of the second half because of its use of the zone, which really flustered the Bruins. Lazeric Jones, who absolutely slaughtered Stanford's man D, couldn't do nearly as much work. And, with Josh Smith largely out of the game due to foul trouble (more on that later), the Bruins were unable to pound it down low. UCLA took its turn being the team to be sloppy with the rock. And, despite being in a zone, the Cardinal were able to rebound very well in the second half.

The problem as far as closing the gap completely on the Bruins, then, wasn't the defense. Rather, it was Stanford's inability to get a decent look once they really got within striking distance. Whenever Stanford got the lead down to three or four points in the second half, Stanford was very good at getting the next stop - on numerous occasions, Stanford followed up a basket with a forced turnover to get it right back. Unfortunately, the Cardinal would be unable to get off a clean look once they got it back.

Whether it was a turnover, a contested look from outside or Zimmermann getting blocked by four-fouls-Josh Smith (upon further review, there had to be some contact there, but I guess you're not going to call it in that situation. Just like the refs let Darren Collison and Lawrence Hill play on with the game on the line in 2008, RIGHT?!?!?!?!), Stanford never really gave themselves the opportunity to really make things hairy. We all know a bear takes a deuce in the woods, but a Bruin or two might have also been taking a leak in the city had Stanford found a way to really take that next step in Thursday night's game.

In other situations, Stanford players simply weren't ready to shoot. There were times where guys passed up open jumpers, especially during that 56-53 possession that took the game to the under-four timeout.

A lot of the negatives we've mentioned. Stanford has had some turnover trouble in the past, but this was a conference season-high - 21 in all. Some credit definitely goes to the UCLA defense, which was as active and in-your-shorts as Ben Howland likes it, but there were a lot of lazy or off-target post entry passes from the perimeter as well.

For the second straight game, Stanford has gotten a key opposing player into extreme foul trouble. For the second straight game, that key opposing player didn't foul out. Stanford did try on a couple of occasions to get Josh Smith out of there for good (Josh Owens trying to take him off the dribble from the top of the key, which Smith played beautifully; Andrew Zimmermann going right at Josh Smith, which was considered a block, as stated earlier), but Smith never picked up number five. The other big Josh - Stanford's Owens - did pick up number five, but by that time, it hardly mattered.

Offensively, Stanford wasn't able to get off a desirable look in a lot of key situations. Whenever Stanford penetrated, there was never the look out to the perimeter. This worked at times, but others the penetrator would throw up a rushed shot or something over multiple defenders. The penetration and pitch is something that is currently missing from the Stanford attack.

On the other hand, Stanford did do some things well. That zone was very effective, packed in and unwilling to let UCLA penetrate like they did against the man.
The free-throw shooting was pretty exceptional - I will take 77 percent charity stripe efficiency any night of the week, especially on the road. What I was impressed with on that front was the and-1 free-throwing, something Stanford has had a good bit of trouble with this year. In and-1 situations tonight, the Cardinal did not miss. It was a very small sample size, but still.

Overall, Stanford shot it much better than they did against Arizona. Thirty-nine percent certainly isn't something you tell a woman in the courtship phase, but it's also something you don't lie about in hopes of getting a second date, either. And, coming off a 25 percent outing, 22-56 almost looks great.

Chasson Randle played like a man, and was the only reason Stanford was able to make it a game in that first half. It goes without saying he is the real deal, and with some time, he will become "that guy" who can take over a game and win it.

Dwight Powell continues to play aggressive basketball and is really coming along much better as the season progresses. Josh Huestis proved himself again to be one of the best shot blockers in the conference. Aaron Bright tried to make a dollar out of 15 cents when the game was seemingly out of reach, scoring on a couple of layups late to make the Bruins use extra elbow grease to seal the deal.

All in all though, this was a painful night. Ever since the Stanford basketball family opened its doors to one Kevin Peter Danna (October 14, 2005, for those scoring at home), its teams have yet to produce a win at UCLA or at USC. And, more than once, the game has been up for grabs. For the UCLA games, those winnable ones have been on the even years- 2008, 2010 and now 2012. And, since 2008, nothing has hurt more than losing in Los Angeles.

Now it's USC time, and God have mercy on my soul if the Trojans fight on to victory on Sunday.  The fourteenth try at a win in Los Angeles will be Stanford's best shot to get a win down under. This game against the Bruins figured to be a tough one to eek out, especially with the way things have been trending, but the USC game appears to be money in the bank.

But who knows, wins come a lot tougher when you're trying to break a losing streak. Just look back to 2009, when a Stanford team that had lost its three previous conference games went into Eugene to take on 0-14 Oregon and lost (I still have a hard time forgiving myself for not making the flight up to that game. I figured it was in the bag, so why fly?). A win on Sunday would be huge, even if it is against the worst team in the conference, but especially since it has been so long since the Cardinal's last victory on the road in LA.

Eventually, the monkey has to jump off the Cardinal's collective back, right?

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