And 1: Utah 58, Stanford 57

Kevin Danna brings his in-depth insights and observations from Stanford's brutal 58-57 loss at the Utah Runnin' Utes in Salt Lake City on Saturday night.

Win and in.

A "W" against the Utes, and Stanford would all but be assured of an NIT bid at the very least. Twenty wins, winning record in a BCS conference should Utah score fewer points on Saturday night? No way the NIT Selection Committee would keep the Farm Boys out.

All they had to do was beat a sub-250 RPI team on the road. After walloping Colorado by 24, this should be almost a no-doubter, even if Utah only lost in Maples by three.

But this game didn't get off to a good start for the road team. Utah, one of the worst but hardest working teams in any Big Six conference, came out fired up in its home finale.  The Runnin' Utes forced a turnover on Stanford's first possession and got it down low to Jason Washburn on the ensuing trip down - he laid it in for the game's first score. After Owens answered 15 seconds later, Washburn went back at it again with an offensive rebound tip-in. After Anthony Brown responded with a jumper 20 seconds later, there was ole' Washburn again, this time getting to the free throw line and knocking down both to put the Utes up a deuce. 6-4.

Utah wasn't supposed to be scoring this efficiently.

But then the Fighting Krystkowiak's came down to earth, and Chasson Randle sprung to life. Two straight threes for Randle. Utah turning it over in transition and missing shots at a frequency they are more used to. At the under-16, Stanford had claimed the lead 12-9.

And it only went up from there. A couple of possessions later, Owens gets on the left block with Washburn on his back and no help - you know what's coming next. Then John Gage got in there and immediately, he hits a turnaround jumper. More Utah confusion on offense - a steal leads to a breakaway for the Rock Island Rookie, who knocks down the runner over South Carolina's very own Dijon Farr. Timeout Coach K.

Stanford is starting to pull away. A ten-point deficit after a Nastic free throw is almost impossible for the Runnin' Utes to overcome, especially when they can't really shoot well at all.

"What was that, Kevo?!" shouted Chris Hines, as he came down and drilled a three from the right wing. It wasn't his senior day, but the junior guard was looking to close his Huntsman season with a bang.

Still, Stanford remained in control and played the part of the playground bully. Hines was curious to see if his superior three-point shooting would translate to points inside off strong takes, but Powell said, "no chance, such is what you got. No chance in hell!" as if he was singing Vince McMahon's entrance music while swatting away Hines' shot. Fast break ensued as Bright penetrated and dropped it off to Owens, and-1 like the Bootleg column.

Then it came, starting in the most bizarre way possible. Battling the shot clock, Cedric Martin used the five-up screen and got Josh Owens to show, freeing up Jason Washburn from downtown for a shot-clock-beating heave. That's alright, though, because Washburn hasn't hit a three in his collegiate career.

Until now.

Then they ratcheted up the pressure on the defensive end. It paid off - Bright charged into Martin. Then Odunsi powered up over Anthony Brown - one point game.
Time to go zone after Anthony Brown freebies and try to slow down the Runnin' Utes, who were for once living up to their namesake (at least more than usual). All the better for Zonebuster Hines, who merely sat in the corner and drilled a left baseline three to tie it up.

Then Utah got to the line…often. The Utes didn't hit a field goal for the rest of the half after that Hines three, which came at the 4:29 mark. Didn't stop the Utes from scoring seven points from the charity stripe.

Meanwhile, Aaron Bright had the best missed layup of the year, drawing Washburn over on his drive to the rack, forcing him to lay it up higher off the glass than normal. Weak side wide open for an Owens put back.

And then it was Stanford's turn to go to the line. With Gage there for a 1-and-1, Stanford looked like they could extend their slim lead… Back rim; no can do.  Instead, it was Dawson's 2-2 trip that put the Utes up at the half by one, 34-33.

Utah isn't supposed to be on pace for 68; they'd only scored 68 points once in their first 15 Pac-12 games! The longer the Runnin' Utes stay in this thing…

Once the second half got underway, it became clear that it wasn't going to be a question of how long Coach K could hang in this one; they weren't going anywhere.  Two turnovers right off the bat for Stanford. Utah wasn't scoring much, either, but Stanford couldn't take advantage. When they weren't turning it over, the Farm Boys were getting offensive rebounds.  After a Washburn layup, Owens grabbed a Randle carom and was down in the paint all by his lonesome. Easy layup... huh? How did that damn thing not go in there? Mann grabs Washburn's block of Owens, fires it out to a wide-open Anthony Brown just left of the top of the key… short on the three.

If the first five minutes of the second half are the most important of the game like so many say they are, then the Card were up poop's creek without a paddle. Though Utah had scored only four points in that timeframe, Stanford had scored four fewer. No, the question wasn't how long Utah would stay in it, not at all. It was…gulp…could they actually win this mother?

The Farm Boys were in for the fight of their lives against a 22-loss team. Maybe the first time wasn't a fluke close game…Maybe Utah actually had Stanford figured out.
Ah, there's that Cardinal offense! Stefan Nastic, like he does whenever he gets in there, made his presence felt with a nifty move in the paint and got the roll. Then Randle did his best Dijon-Farr-against-Colorado impersonation by banking in a three from the exact same spot Farr did one week earlier to tie it up at 38.

Ah, there's that putrid Utah offense! Empty possessions for the Utes in the form of a Martin missed bunny and Hines turnover. The door was unlocked for the Cardinal.
But try as they might, they couldn't twist the damned knob. Eventually, it was that man Hines again, who burned the Cardinal time after time in the paint with drives in Maples, taking it to the rack and giving the Utes the lead.
Back the Cardinal came, as a Chasson Randle wide open three gave the lead back to Stanford. But the Utes took a page out of the Old Testament and went eye for an eye in the form of a Dijon Farr trey at the top of the key. After Josh Owens hit a couple of charity stripe tosses, Anthony Brown stole a Kareem Storey pass, went down the floor with five white shirts behind chasing him down, threw up the righty layup from the left side of the basket - be enough English!- rolls in.

Again, Stanford had its chances to extend the lead if only Bright caught that Brown outlet pass cleanly! Instead, the Bellevue kid had to back it out and had his lefty bounce pass to Owens taken away by Washburn (on my first viewing, I thought it was very bad decision; on second watch, Owens could have done a much better job of sealing Washburn). But there was another chance to make it a two possession lead…another blown opportunity. Next time down, Dijon Farr slyly stepped back and hit a mid-ranger from the left baseline to tie the game up at 45.
At the under-eight timeout, Utah had a two-point lead. By the under-four, Stanford needed to have the lead.

Anthony Brown gave it to them momentarily, pulling up as a trailer from the right wing to finish off the Aaron Bright assist.  The bench rose in unison, the Cardinal fans behind the bench went crazy. This could be the momentum changer the Cardinal needed.

It sure looked like it, too. Bad teams make bad plays and bad decisions. Utah made a couple in a row- first with an errant post entry pass to Washburn that sailed over the 6'10'' man's head, next with a feed to Farr for what could have been a layup in transition. Those are the Utes everyone thought they'd see! All that was needed was a bucket…

Chasson tried to provide some breathing room, but lost control of the ball on his way up and had to throw up an awkward attempt that damn near went in the hole. Nastic was next, trying to turn in the paint, but was blocked (fouled?) by Dijon Farr. No dice.

By the time the under-four whistle sounded, Stanford was indeed ahead, but Cedric Martin would be at the line after the breather. Mission sort-of accomplished, but not really, because Martin nailed his free throws to give Utah the lead right back.

And then the game got really interesting.

Stanford ball out of a timeout after breaking the Utah press. Stanford guards dribbling around aimlessly on the perimeter. Chasson has it with only three seconds on the shot clock! No problem. Drains one over Washburn.

Now it was time to get a stop. The Farm Boys had Cedric Martin covered as he went to the hoop. Too covered. Martin flicks out to Dijon Farr. Extra pass to…oh no- Hines…Utah back on top. The Huntsman homers haven't had this much to cheer about in a month!

But Stanford, a team that has struggled offensively in the final four minutes of close games, was executing to perfection. This time, it was Aaron Bright. Nastic sets the screen for his sophomore guard, who drives to the hoop with Farr trailing, uses that rim as an obstacle to Farr going up on the reverse layup and knocks it down. Stanford 53, Utah 52. 2:20 and change.

Utah's turn. Martin gets it on the left wing, guarded by Stefan Nastic. Speed advantage to the man with the ball; he recognizes it and goes to the hoop. Owens comes over in help, weak side now wide open for Farr to slide on in and receive the pass. Hard foul and 1-2 ensues. Fifty-three all.

Stanford in the batter's box now, except they're in the hole 0-2 and Nastic is swinging at a curveball in the dirt. Lucky for him, the catcher didn't hold on to strike three. Martin wasn't set in the paint as Stefan drove to the hoop and gets the fortunate foul call. Nastic takes first but not second, splitting the pair. Back up one, under two minutes now. A stop and Stanford is in the driver's seat.

Washburn preferred to be the chauffer, getting it in the paint 10 feet out and finishing smoothly over Josh Owens. 55-54 with 1:16 to play. The last time Stanford was involved in a 55-54 final, they lost to the Cougars in Pullman back in January of 2009. Could the Cardinal strike one more time?

Clock's running low, though, and Stanford doesn't have much going. Someone needs to do something - it's Aaron, who forces his way into the paint from the right wing. Shot's no good, but Powell's there with the tip - no! He gets it back - yes!

The Farm Boys were now one stop away from nearly putting this one on ice - up one with 40 seconds to go. But this was a Utes team that had been uncharacteristically clutch all second half long, answering Cardinal stops with stops of their own, Stanford makes with field goals the next time down.

Cedric Martin brings it up… where's Hines? He's over on the right wing - then he makes his move. Diving through the paint and coming out on the other side, he sets a screen for Washburn. In the process, Powell and Mann switch. Then Martin makes his move, drives left for a couple of dribbles…just enough to draw Powell off the hottest hand in the game. Martin's no dummy - he feeds the conference's leading three-point maker in Pac-12 games. With the Utah bench behind him, Hines elevates…releases…


There's still time, though. Twenty-six ticks and Randle is trying to go all Greg Jennings on everybody. Gets the screen, spins by Washburn, misses…there's Owens on the glass! He goes up, rims out - but he's fouled!

Josh faced a similar situation at home against Washington State last year- down 59-57 with seven seconds to go. His first one was good; his second one wasn't. Washington State won 61-58.

Right now, Stanford is down 58-56 with eight seconds to go.  Owens steps to the line, gets into his routine, releases, drills. 58-57. Now the pressure is really on. Owens feels it. Way short on the second. Washburn gets the board and is immediately fouled.

But that's just the team's fourth. Eventually, a Utah player gets hacked by a Cardinal opponent for the seventh time in the second half. It's Washburn, and 5.0 shows on the clock. Can he ice it?

Clank. Clock's running'. So is Chasson. He gets to 25 feet, fires - backboard, rim, out. Buzzer sounds. Game's over. 58-57 is your final, and Utah finishes on top.

No. F'n. Way. And to think the Oregon loss hurt…

Now, the path is very muddy. A win against Cal might not be enough to be considered a Top-100 team by conference tournament's end. More work needs to be done. A lot.

Can the Card rebound, or will this loss prove to be too much to overcome? The answer is five days away.
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