And 1: Stanford-Arizona State

Rushing to my Staples Center seat on the elevated press row, I started to wonder how many people actually gave a darn about this game. After all, it's a 7-10 match-up between two teams who have no shot of making the NCAA Tournament, save for a conference tourney championship.

Though most people around the country had better things to watch, the game had big implications for the Farm Boys. Yes, a trip to the Big Dance was up for grabs if they could string together four W's in as many days. But also, a loss against lowly Sendek State would all but wipe away the Card's chances at a potential NIT bid, which took a hit with Savannah State losing its first MEAC tournament game (I mean seriously, why does the MEAC regular-season winner seemingly never win the conference tourney, unless it's Bozeman's Bears? Free Bozeman, by the way).

And then Lehigh beat Bucknell…and Montana was trailing Weber State by 10 in the first half (don't worry, Tinkle's Troops came back). Stanford can't get no love! I love and hate this whole regular-season-champion-getting-an-auto-bid-to-NIT at the same time.

It becomes more and more apparent that this game is a MUST win to be considered one of the 100 best teams in the country. You may think I'm being sarcastic about all this NIT talk, but I'm dead serious: I'd kill for the NIT… It's been too long.

But a couple of bad omens loomed at the beginning. As soon as I got up to my seat and looked onto the court, I saw a familiar foe dressed in zebra get-up: Kevin freaking Brill, reffing a Stanford basketball game in Los Angeles… this couldn't be good.

Then Stanford got off to an ominous start. After winning the tip, Randle threw a dime of a 40-foot pass to wide-open Josh Owens, who beat everybody down the court and had a bunny….except he lost control of the ball. Owens followed it up by guarding Jonathan Gilling tough on the perimeter, only to have the Dane drill a stepback in his face. Say it ain't so!

It ain't so. That's about all of the cheer Arizona State ever had in this one. Anthony Brown was especially annoyed by this Fork advantage and wanted to make sure it was short-lived. He did. It was. Three-ball on the next possession down from No. 3 evened it up at three.

And that was just the beginning of a host of long-range bombs for the Farm Boys. Randle put the Card up a couple of possessions later over Chris Colvin. First three shots, three three-point attempts and two makes. For a team that can go cold in a hurry from beyond the arc, I'm not sure about this… But hey, those shots will be there against Sendek's match-up zone.

Veteran Fork Trent Lockett was ready for the next attempt; he was gonna close out hard on Chasson! And he did, but he did so too hard, fouling the Rock Island Rookie on the release.

Surely Trent learned his lesson. After all, he was one of the smartest players in Sendek's clique. But when he sees Anthony Brown show ball, it's just too juicy to resist- he's gotta send him back to Palo Alto! Only problem- that was a shot-fake, Trent. And just like that, at the 15:56 mark of the first half, Trent Lockett is saddled with two fouls.

Defensively, Stanford was really starting to ramp it up. Colvin thought he had a lane to the rack, only to run into 162 combined inches of height, as Owens and Z sent the Palm Beach State transfer packing his bags to Chicago for spring break in what appeared to be about 35 minutes of game time.

A shot clock violation for ASU came next, followed by blocks on blocks on blocks. Trotter comes in and sends one away on his first defensive possession (they didn't give him a block, but that's how it looked from up yonder). The guards of Arizona State were penetrating, but they couldn't finish it off with a good look. Next option for Sendek? Of course, Jordan Bachynski, the man who lit up the Card for 20 a month back. He was about the only thing working for the Forks in Maples.

That rang true again early on, as his right shoulder baby hook helped cut an early ten-point deficit down to 16-10. Aaron Bright scoffed at that mini 4-0 run and almost answered it completely on the next trip down with his patented pull-up without passing if the D plays off. Nailed it; back to nine. But Bachynski wasn't done trying to do work; after all, he had a seven-inch edge over the man guarding him.

But what Mr. Montana lacked in size, he more than made up for in hops. Get that ish outta here, big fella! Bachynski didn't get the message though, and was intent on cutting the lead to 12. With Huestis out of his line of vision, The Chynsk took a chance and went up with it… same result- this time, Huestis came from behind to smack it away.

However, The Chynsk refused to take Huestis' repeated "NO!"s for an answer. He thought he'd give it one more go over Josh Junior.

"Shoulda listened the first two times, brah," Huestis retorted.

Meanwhile, the basket was as wide as the gap on the scoreboard for the Farm Boys offensively. The Cardinal started out 4-of-6 from downtown – scratch that, I mean 5-of-7 – wait, that's now 6- hold up, hold up – 7-of-9! After Aaron Bright's right-winger gave Stanford a 29-13 lead, Carrick Felix could do nothing but point to Bright and say "who the hell has him?!" Think the Cardinal remembered their first-half shooting woes in the first round of last year's Pac-10 Tournament?

Though it was mainly the lone scholie guy who wasn't there for the Oregon State debacle who did most of the damage, picking his spots from the left wing and right wing as he so chose; Chasson didn't discriminate when it came to Democrats and Republicans. Nor did he discriminate who he was eyeballing – be it Creekmur, Colvin or Felix. The theme was the same no matter who was responsible for Randle; the rotation would be late, and Randle would make the Sun Devil defense pay, time after time.

If x equaled Arizona State's score, Stanford was 2x + 4 for a long while. Plus, Randle was keeping pace at x.

He was up to 19…22…24. When he wasn't making threes, he was making free throws due to his ability to get out in transition and muscle through contact enough to get off an attempt with the whistle. His lone two was an impressive finish after ridding himself of Lockett. He had already tied his career high, and the first half wasn't even over yet!

It was getting ugly. Randle's last two free throws gave him Josh Owens' first number at Stanford and put the Farm Boys up 47-21. It looked like a Cardinal tornado had just torpedoed through the Sun Devil side, and the maroon and gold would be unable to rebuild.

They weren't dead yet, though. As inept as Arizona State can be on the offensive end at times, they do have shooters, namely Jonathan Gilling and Chanse Creekmur. The Dane saw how much Chasson enjoyed dialing from long distance and wanted to get in on the three-point orgy; he made sure the album "Candy Ass" continued playing from the rafters, swished one. Creekmur was up next, rocking to the tune of the hit remake of "Blue Monday" not once, but twice. Twenty-six points seemed insurmountable, but now 17? Hell, the Forks could regroup off that deficit.

All they needed now was a stop before the break, and they'd go into the Los Angeles Kings'/Clippers'/Lakers' locker room on a 9-0 run. But that meant stopping one Chasson Randle. You couldn't stop him; you could only hope to contain him the way he was playing tonight. But on this final possession of the first half, the Sun Devils did neither, as Chasson went Barack Obama one more time, nailing the left wing trey to give Stanford an even Curtis Jackson at the break.

By half's end, Stanford was shooting 54 percent from the field and 9-of-15 from three. Seriously, a far cry from March 9, 2011, when I was drowning myself in Coke (uh, Cola, not the white girl), a cheeseburger and a chocolate cake at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Evanston, watching the Cardinal brick away their postseason eligibility. Twenty minutes from win 21.

If there's another thing about Sendek's team though, it's that they play hard and disciplined. He gets the most out of his guys, and they never quit on him. They shot rather well in the first half, too (4-of-7 from downtown), and it carried over into the start of the second half. After The Chynsk finally got a clean look to go, Gilling drained his third three in as many tries. It ain't fun if the homies can't have none, and the Copenhagen Killer made sure his boy Chris Colvin got a three up and in also.

The lead was down to 15, and Stanford's offense was all out of sync. The first couple of threes Stanford put up in the second half didn't find the bottom of the net. After each Arizona State make or dead-ball inbounds for Stanford, the Sun Devils started to bring the pressure…and Stanford felt it. Powell threw a lazy pass in and Carrick Felix was all over it.

And then he was all over Dwight Powell, with a nasty I-just-took-a-s***-on-you dunk. Felix reinforced his point by landing all in Powell's grill. After another Arizona State bucket, the lead was down to 13. Shades of Pullman and Salt Lake City 2012 were flashing in my mind. Could the Cardinal really blow another double-digit lead away from Maples?

Not if Dwight Powell had something to say about it. Apparently, he didn't take too kindly to Felix's jam, going right for the jugular from the left baseline, charging for the rim before being hacked by Carrick to disrupt the slam. No problem, as Dwight calmly knocked down a pair.

Not if Chasson Randle had something to say about it, either. Dwight tracked down his own miss and kicked out to Chasson, who had yet to score in the second half. He collected Dwight's pass on the edge of the Pacific Life Pac-12 Tourney Logo, or 25 feet dead-center. He was left wide open. "What should I do?" Randle thought to himself as no one cared to pick him up defensively. "Should I drive? Pass? Ah what the hell, I might as well throw one up." Knockdown. Just like that, a 7-0 Stanford run had pushed the cushion back up to 20.

The rest was academic, as Arizona State never threatened down the stretch. Though I must say, it got a tad bit hairy when Dawkins went to his bottom five and there were still two minutes left in a 15-point game. Things got even hairier; though the Card were able to get the clock to less than 80 seconds, Wade Morgan had just gotten his shot swatted and Stanford appeared headed towards a shot-clock violation.

Wait, no they weren't. Jack Ryan was there to clean things up and put the game officially on ice. He wasn't done yet either; the Glenview native got a strong defensive rebound on the other end, got fouled, hit two, and then took Chanse Creekmur in the paint to conclude the latest episode of Ryan Doin' Work.

Six straight from Jack Ryan made sure the score didn't look all too respectable. It was 85-65 Stanford in the end, as the Cardinal had been able to unleash all 15 of their healthy henchmen on the Forks for the second time in as many meetings this year.

The win had been secured, and Johnny Dawkins officially had his winningest season on The Farm.

Time for the rematch now, as the Battle of the Bay heads south. Can the Card make it two in a row over the Mischievous Monties? An answer in the affirmative all but assures a real postseason tournament; perhaps even a home game. Lookin' forward to it.

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