And 1: Stanford 84, Nevada 56

It is time again for the Cardinal faithful to sit back, grab your favorite drink, and get inside the mind of Kevin Danna as he offers this look at Stanford's 84-56 victory over Nevada in the quarterfinal round of the National Invitation Tournament.

There was a certain energy in the building yesterday that started hours before tip-off. I'd like to believe it wasn't just me, either. That afternoon, my boss Khari Jones, on a whim, decided Ros and I should do a live pre-game show for the first time this year at a basketball game.  In-house video production guys were coming in more than an hour before their call time. These folks were ready for some NIT quarterfinal action!

And so was the Nevada contingent, just as much, if not more at the outset. The soon-to-be Mountain West school did its mascot right by traveling in a huge pack - hundreds of Navy blue and silver supporters filled the lower bowl well before the Stanford fans showed up.

Wolf… PACK!  Wolf… PACK!

I looked over to David Lombardi and said, "get ready for the first-ever road game at Maples Pavilion."

Then I rolled through the media room to grab a couple slices of pepperoni and while there, ran into SID Brian Risso. As a Fresno State graduate, this game was personal. The WAC/MWC rivalry ran deep within his veins.

"Let's get this one, Kevo!" Risso said, high-fiving me. "This one's for Pat Hill!"

As far as the WAC was concerned, this one was for more than just the ex-Fresno State football coach. As a San Jose native myself, Teal City ‘til I d-i-e (A's to the 408, F the Giants, all that jazz), this was for Wil Carter, Calvin Douglas, Matt Ballard and Garrett Ton - Sparty seniors who had their college basketball careers ended by the Wolf Pack in the first round of the WAC Tourney. This was for George Nessman. This was for Lawrence Fan. For all the WAC schools left behind by the Wolf Pack - San Jo State, La Tech, Vandal Vision, Aggieville, Wild Bill- Stanford was going to defend your honor tonight (and then maybe pay you $60,000 to come and get an ass-whoopin' in Maples in 2012-13).

By the time I assumed the position behind the scorers' table alongside Lombardi and Chris Ebersole, there was a ton more cardinal red in the crowd. While it certainly wasn't a Washington-Oregon crowd, it was live. The Roscoe Maynards, Sludds, Sushis, and Boom-Booms of the world - the die-hards, the ones who rolled with Stanford Basketball through thick and thin - were out in full force, trying to bring Maples back to its rightful owners.


Alright, this wasn't a road game anymore. Neutral site. Maybe only 3,020 in attendance, but a loud three grand, ready for tip.

Won by Nevada, a bunch that looked fearsome on paper and in their Sweet 16 dub-sac against Bucknell on Sunday. Two high-major transfers, a conference player of the year, the school's all-time leading shot blocker, and a jump-out-of-the-gym-kinda guy to round out the starting five. A team that had knocked off Washington in the regular season and was 28-6 up to this point.

But Stanford wasn't fazed by the Wolf Pack aura, not in the least bit, and certainly not Josh Owens, who sent Olek Czyz's attempt back with an imaginary wave of the finger as if to say, "That s*** ain't flyin' in my house, bruh!"

It didn't take long for Stanford to capitalize with a nice little dribble hand-off action from Jarrett Mann to set up Chasson Randle for a three - yes indeedy, like writing graffiti on the bus with his name last through the looking glass.

"Let's go Indians!" said a fan behind me. Like I said - true-blue supporters in the house tonight.

The two seniors that had combined for a block and an assist in the first 35 seconds continued to own the first stanza. Owens got it on the left block, one-on-one with Dario Hunt, no help coming. Oh come on, Pack, that's no way to let Joshua operate! Beautiful left shoulder. Then it was Jarrett Mann, who started out harassing Malik Story and never stopped getting frisky with him. Offensively, he was his usual aggressive self, finishing tough over Dario Hunt. Andrew Zimmermann wanted in on the fun, too; going baseline, but Dario had other plans. Not yet, Z. You'll get yours.

Stanford was up 10-4, but I was waiting for the Wolf Pack to start pushing back.

"I like this team," I said to Ebersole and Lombardi, referring to the Wolf Pack. "They just aren't hitting their shots yet."

"They're not really getting any good looks; everything's tough," one of them corrected me. Yeah, I suppose this was a pretty good defensive effort - holding Nevada to 1-8 thus far? Yeah, well done.

It was time for the subs to do some work, and Huestis went right at it, getting to the right elbow from the wing and dismissing Patrick Nyeko from his personal space in the process.

"That a way to put him down, Indian!" Too bad he couldn't connect. Wasn't the last we would hear from Mr. Montana.

Aaron Bright was up next, who had just gotten abused by Deonte Burton in the post. His response? Just come on down the court and get the bucket back, finishing cleverly over a six-inch-taller and bulkier Malik Story.

"He took it personal!" Stephen Bardo said. He followed that up by finding Powell out of a double team for the open 17-footer. What did I keep telling everyone in my mind about his mid-range game?! Later on in the half, Dwight would have a spin move leading to a right baseline contested jumper that made you think "man, this guy is SO league!"

The sophomores were doin' it, doin' it, and doin' it well. Huestis hit both free throws after forcing Dario Hunt to commit his second personal (one-percenter call; that looked like a jump to me), a victory in itself. His confidence was up for this one, and it showed the next time down on offense, soaring above all to grab the offensive rebound off an Anthony Brown perimeter miss and going right back up to get his first field goal.

But Malik Story didn't feel like getting blown out quite yet, and when he is left all alone at the top of the key, the 42-percenter will make you pay. Five point game through two segments.

Wolf…PACK! Go… Stanford! This place was a-buzzin', and the Farm Boys were feeding off the atmosphere.

Aaron Bright was showing why he wasn't a two-hit wonder, feeding D-Peezy down low for an easy finish off an o-reb. Talk about a move - penetrating the Wolf Pack zone, forcing multiple defenders to collapse, then finding the open Powell on the baseline, all in no-look fashion. That's the swag he brings!

Bright also brings a nice three-ball, and when you're playing zone like Nevada was for a couple of possessions midway through that first half, you gotta find a way to mark him, no matter how deep he is. So when Aaron Bright rose and released from NBA range after Jerry Evans, Jr., failed to get out on him, only one thing came to mind.

Hand down, man down.

Josh Huestis, meanwhile, was playing like a man, at least that's what my notes said. Ripped a rebound away from Czyz the Bzyz. Had another one of his patented timing blocks, this time on Jordan Burris. Had one of the sweetest spin moves around Evans and then finished over Dario Hunt for perhaps his best move of the season. Where did that come from (oh how dare you forget about the Utah-Colorado home weekend, Kevo!)?

The other Josh was playing like a man possessed. Tipping in a miss for a "let's f-ing go!" type of put back - he was wearing his emotions on his sleeves tonight. Dario Hunt was back in there with two personals matched up on Owens, and so Dawkins made sure his big man got the ball on the left block, just where the Kennesaw Kid likes it. Oh, the touch! The arc! It's what had been missing on his left shoulder bunnies in previous games.

Finally, it was Zimmermann's time to shine. Malik Story and Olek Czyz were doing what they could to keep it close, but Z's six straight really helped the Card create separation. The driving capability of this man! Beating both Dario Hunt and Kevin Panzer to the house. Moving without the basketball, led by Jarrett Mann to finish down the lane.

If it weren't for a couple of Story and Czyz points, this would have REALLY been a blowout. As it was, the Card were up 18, and Nevada had the last possession of the half…if they wanted it. Malik Story didn't, deciding to chuck up a three with double-digit ticks left on the clock. Had it not gone down, that would have been one of the worst decisions of the game - you could tell Nevada was looking to get into something before they needed to also. But hey, the damn thing went right through the net, so it wasn't all bad for the Pack.

Still, the Card were dominating 42-27 at the break in what was perhaps their best half of the season. Sixty-five percent from the floor, 4-5 from three, 4-4 from free, outrebounding Nevada 18-9 with a defensive rebounding efficiency of .777.

"You still like Nevada?" Ebersole said, mocking me. I could only shrug. I mean, they did only have three turnovers at the break…but when your offense was dissolving into Malik Story jacking up 25-footers with 25 on the shot clock and Deonte Burton trying to go one on the world, it wasn't looking good.

"You know, as well as Stanford has played, Nevada could make it a 12-point game if they get a three on this possession," I said, as the second half opened up. Just as I made the remark, Malik Story threw a beautiful bounce pass to Josh Owens, who would eventually slam it down on the other end.

"Hammer time!" remarked Roxy Bernstein.

Possession No. 2: repeat possession No. 1. Turnover Nevada. Dunk Stanford- this time, Jarrett Mann in the open court, and nobody bothered to cut off his lane to the hoop. More correctly, it was an Andrew Zimmermann steal that led to the Mann dunk, as Ebersole pointed out to me after looking at my notes.

"I just want to make sure you have the right detail in your column." Thanks, bro.

If Nevada was going to make the run I thought they would, time was a-tickin'. Things weren't getting any prettier for the Pack. Burton essentially gave Story every indication besides pointing up in the air for an alley-oop on the next break, so Story obliged. Una problema - if Story is gonna lob one up to you, Deonte, you gotta go up and get it (granted it was a pretty bad pass). That didn't happen. What did happen was the Nevada head honcho scratching his bald head in frustration. Coach Carter's Wolf Pack were looking a lot more like the Richmond Oilers at the beginning of the 1998-99 season.

We had been through five mandatories, and Stanford had increased its lead through each of ‘em. So I jot that nugget of inflammation down in my notes. In parentheses I put next to it "(Kevo, you know better than that)".

You dumb bastard. How dare you jinx the flow of the game?

We hadn't seen much of Olek Czyz yet, and in a way, that frustrated the sub-sophomoric minds of David Lombardi, Chris Ebersole and Kevin Danna. We had been waiting all game to say "oh, he just Czyzed on somebody!" The guy had the skills for us to say that, for sure. He could take it to the rack from the top of the key as a skilled big, had a nice touch, good spin move. He just hadn't seen the ball much.

And then, after a Josh Owens get-the-hell-out-of-my-way-Mr.-Hunt and-1, it came. Czyz on the low block, gets the feed, and absolutely Czyzes all over Josh Owens to exact a little revenge. Lombardi, Ebersole and I made the joke as many times as possible in the span of 15 seconds, and our 15 year-old minds had all been placated.

But our desire to make a funny came at a cost - apparently that Czyz dunk gave his team a little momentum and a few possessions later, Burton hit a helluva contested three over Aaron Bright, and the lead was down to 15. Sprinkle in a couple of WAC POTY free throws after the blow-by past Huestis, and the score was 56-43. Timeout Johnny.

Still, thirteen is a sizable margin, but perhaps the Wolf Pack smelled a little blood.  Aaron Bright, however, sniffed a 2-3 Nevada look out of the timeout, and his eyes were as wide as the basket has looked to him in the last five halves and overtime he has played.  Jarrett Mann did well to recognize it with a little "I'm gonna hit Josh Huestis on the right wing - just kidding, brah" fake, and instead throwing it Bellevue's way. He might as well have shot it from the 425, he was that deep. But like we discussed earlier, it doesn't matter where he pulls up from...

Boom, baby!

Nevada wasn't done threatening yet, though. The Pack set up a three-quarters court press off a made Czyz free throw - Bright walked right into the defense, literally. Owens stole it right back, tried to slam it down…Burton fouled him, and Owens couldn't make the freebies. Sheezarino, hasn't that happened enough already this season?

The lead would hang at the 14-16 range for a little bit, and Nevada had a chance to get it down to a dozen. But the ball went haywire, and Chasson Randle came away with the loosey, stormed down the court for a seemingly easy layup. Here comes Deonte, though, and he was going to make Chasson earn it. The POTY had great closing speed, but the Rock Island Rookie outsmarted him with a second-side lefty layup that perhaps only Tony Wroten and Jared Cunningham could make in the Pac-12. Oh, what a guy!

Panzer wanted three back, couldn't get it. Huestis wanted three more, could get it thanks to Bright going baseline and finding the open Montana native in the corner as if he were passing to Shane Battier. Just like that, the Card were up 19.

"Ballgame," Lombardi said. I couldn't disagree. When Burton came down and launched a contested three without a pass in the possession, it was apparent the Wolf Pack had been gunned down for good.

It only got worse for the Pack. Clearly beaten, the Cardinal continued to out-hustle Nevada to every loose ball, leading to extra possessions and extra pretty Chasson Randle layups. Burton was especially frustrated, picking up a T after complaining about a non-foul call. Just an excuse for Chasson to pad his stats. By the time Olek got fouled and went to the line, Stanford had extended its lead to 29 thanks to a 16-1 run.

"I'm done taking notes on this one," I said as Czyz stepped to the line.

All that remained now was a chance for the seniors to go out in style and let the bench finish this one off. Then it came - Jarrett Mann stepped in the Nevada passing lane and went off to the races, no one with a snowball's chance in hell of catching up to him.

With authority one final time! Jarrett slammed it down with one hand so forcefully that the net got caught up on the rim while he gave a salute to the 6th Man and the rest of Maples Pavilion that signified "I'm out, y'all!"

And with the ensuing whistle because of the net hang-up, he was. As were the other three seniors - Josh Owens, Jack Trotter and Andrew Zimmermann, getting one last standing ovation from The Farm Faithful and a huge hug from Dawkins and Staff on the way out of the game.

84-56 was the score at the conclusion of 40 minutes - John Gage didn't even let Nevada get the last tally with a corner three of his own - and the Stanford Cardinal had just booked themselves a couple dozen tickets to JFK.

Wow. In the final game at Maples this season, the Card put forth perhaps their best effort of the season. For as maligned as this team was during the 1-5 stretch in late January-early February and a couple of ugly losses to Washington State and Utah, the Farm Boys made sure they didn't end their season like 2010-11. Not a chance.

So much for that mythical slump to supposedly end every season under Johnny Dawkins. The Mid-Major Slayers added another college basketball 99 percenter program to its victim list, as this game was but another example that you can Occupy a setting all you want (like the Nevada fans did), but superior resources will win out in the end. As The Mid-Majority likes to say, it always ends in a loss.

Add Stanford-Cleveland State, Stanford-Illinois State, and Stanford-Nevada to that list

And, with continued offensive execution, perhaps UMass will be an addendum.
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