The good news is that USC, 1-11 in conference play, is next for Stanford
and it should be easier for the Cardinal to score next season with an extra year
of muscle and an added inside-out presence on offense.
The bad news: even Sunday's game against Troy isn't a gimme, given how poorly Stanford is shooting the basketball and rebounding down the stretch of games.
The Cardinal continued to struggle to create separation on the perimeter in Thursday night's 72-63 loss to UCLA. As a result, the Bruins were able to effectively take Josh Owens - Stanford's most efficient scorer - out of the game and exact revenge for their 60-59 December defeat in Palo Alto.
From the field, last night's 39% performance is a whole lot better than last Saturday's 25% clip, but Stanford needs an offensive spark, and the Cardinal need it fast. Until Sunday, though, they'll only get their UCLA report card. Here's an evaluation of who I deemed to be Stanford's six key players - for better or for worse - yesterday:
Stanford shot just a smidgen over 50% from the field against its weaker Pac-12 competition (Utah, Colorado, ASU). That number plummeted to 33% against stronger, more athletic competition from Washington, Cal, and Arizona. A lid hasn't been placed on the basket. Quite simply, the Cardinal's guards are struggling to create quality shots against more formidable defensive presences.
Randle is Stanford's biggest hope as far as possessing the potential skill-set to bust open and create points from the perimeter, even if that ability isn't yet fully developed. The freshman's 16-point performance included a handful of aggressive takes into the paint and a beautiful half-ending three-pointer from the corner. A glimmer of offensive hope was there, but so were a team-leading five costly turnovers.
Why did it take Bright so long to begin penetrating? Good things happen when he sneaks his small frame and squirts through the paint to set up a nifty assist. Defenses collapse; three-point shooting opportunities re-open for him. But Bright did not begin aggressively attacking the paint until desperation time Thursday night. No wonder he attempted only one three-pointer all game. There's no way a guy knocking down 43% of his shots from downtown should be pulling the trigger only once from long range.
Zimmerman's playing time has diminished recently as Johnny Dawkins has been forced to resort to players with more offensive explosiveness, but a generally skinny Stanford team needs the senior's muscle and scrappiness on the floor. He rose to the occasion in an unusual 23 minutes of action, even collecting two steals and leading Stanford in rebounds (six). Many of Zimmerman's nine points came courtesy of pretty backdoor cuts. I've been critical of this guy in the past, but he really exceeded what was asked of him Thursday and was the only Stanford player to successfully do all the "small things" that were necessary to beat UCLA.
Whenever I see Brown's 6'6" frame on the perimeter, I envision him as a potential fix to Stanford's inability to create its own shots on the perimeter. Mentally, though, he's just not aggressive enough yet to take matters into his own hands. Putting on some more beef over this coming offseason will help Brown a lot, because Stanford needed more than five points in 23 minutes from him yesterday.
Here's another guy who will really benefit from some extra beef if he can rack it on in the offseason. Just look at a guy like UCLA's Josh Smith. Or Cal's Harper Kamp. Those are both meaty players who seem to have their way physically with slimmer guys like Powell down the stretch. Powell's nine points just made me want to see more scoring from his long, athletic body. It's obvious that the potential is there. The muscle just has to follow. When it does, he will start leading Stanford to out-rebound quality opponents down the stretch. The Cardinal lost the rebounding battle again Thursday, 31-28. A strong first half on the glass disappeared down the stretch.
He's leading Stanford in scoring. He's shooting nearly 60 percent from the field. Yet he was only on the floor for 16 minutes. This can't happen for Stanford. Defenses are dropping back and keying on Owens (four field goals attempted, six points), because the Cardinal can't keep them honest with a hot stretch from the perimeter. Last night, his frustration translated into foul trouble, which led to prolonged absences from the floor, which eventually caused Stanford to suffer in the muscle and rebounding department against UCLA.
It's a domino effect, and its one that the Cardinal must find a way turn on
its head. Whether it be through Chasson Randle's attack, Aaron Bright's
penetration, or a newfound aggressiveness from a guy like Anthony Brown,
Stanford must loosen things up for Owens, their most efficient scorer.
Heading into Sunday's matchup with bottom-dwelling USC, Stanford's guards have lost the swagger that opened the offensive floodgates and carried the team to its hot start. It's time to get that mojo back at the Galen Center.
About the Author: David Lombardi is a Stanford and Pac-12 Conference enthusiast. He has broadcast the Cardinal on KZSU for several years and is currently contributing to the Cardinal Channel. You can check several of his Stanford calls out at www.davidmatthewlombardi.com, where you can also read his West Coast-oriented blog via this direct link.
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