To begin, the 2012 installment of USC basketball is absolutely atrocious. To clarify: unfathomably bad. An apocalyptic rash of injuries has decimated the Trojans. Walk-ons who don't hustle (thought that was an oxymoron until watching this USC team) see significant playing time. The team is 1-12. The offense looks like it's stuck in a perpetual around-the-horn passing drill. The posh Galen Center is empty. Coach Kevin O'Neill is red; athletic director Pat Haden is also angry.
But mark my words: with an influx of talent, including touted Wake Forest transfers J.T. Terrell and Ari Stewart, O'Neill's 2013 squad will be one of the most improved teams in college basketball history. Only one starter from the roster that Stanford faced Sunday will get significant minutes for the Trojans next year.
For the sake of the game of basketball, that's a positive development.
For the second time this year, USC's basketball team failed to match the amount of points their football team scored against Stanford in the Cardinal's epic 56-48 win at the Coliseum in October.
The Trojans' hoops squad can't penetrate, they can't rebound, and they certainly can't shoot the basketball. Heck, the only reason that they're "good" defensively is because the offense takes the air out of the ball and sucks away more than 30 seconds of clock per possession, thereby severely shortening the game.
But, a physical lashing is a physical lashing, and Stanford was finally able to put the hammer down Sunday. Regardless of how poor this Trojans team is, the Cardinal badly needed to bully an opponent.
After a 15-3 start in which only two foes had out-rebounded them, the situation had soured in Palo Alto. Stanford had lost five of six, and they were losing because they weren't tough enough. Teams like Washington and Cal, in particular, bruised Dawkins' young squad on the glass, and the evidence was found in the embarrassing rebounding total of those games (93-56, advantage: bad guys).
With their physical confidence eroded, Stanford's offensive presence and swagger also vanished. No player was asserting himself offensively against better, more physical competition. The Cardinal, who had shot 82-163 (50.3%) against weaker teams from Utah, Colorado, and Arizona State, saw their field goal percentage plummet to 81-235 (34.5%) against the more talented likes of Washington, Cal, Arizona, and UCLA.
So an opportunity to blow off some steam and bludgeon reeling USC to the tune of 44-18 rebounding domination was just the medicine that Stanford needed. The Trojans only mustered one offensive board for the entire game. With the Cardinal's physical dominance, a rare phenomenon occurred: a Stanford player actually took over the basketball game offensively. Enter Chasson Randle. The bulk of his 16-point, 4-5 downtown shooting exhibition was on display in the second half.
Even if the 2012 edition of USC basketball is not a worthy opponent, Sunday's victory can teach important lessons and allow Stanford to regain lost early-season mojo. Fortune favors the bold, much like physical dominance on the glass usually translates into healthy aggressiveness on the offensive end of the floor. See if Stanford can maintain that advantage against better Oregon competition coming to Maples Pavilion this weekend.
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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