Stanford/Minnesota first-half blog

Aaron Bright has eight, Josh Owens has six, Chasson Randle has five, and Josh Huestis has six rebounds as the Cardinal lead by six at halftime of the NIT Championship. Both defenses have outshined the offenses, but Bright's shooting and Stanford's defensive size have made the difference early.

MADISON SQUARE GARDEN, New York City
Setting the scene: Sparse crowd for this one, maybe a third of Tuesday night's contingent now that we sent the UMass fans packing. However, there is a crowd of 100 Stanford fans right underneath the hoop your Cardinal will be attacking in the second half, and you can hear the "de-fense" chants when Minnesota has the ball. Of course, I get the loudest Minnesota fan in the building five feet from my head. (Hard to take him seriously with his accent, however.) I'm also really close to the Minnesota cheerleaders. They're prettier, hands down, than any group I've ever seen in person – and I've seen every Pac-10 school out there. Go figure.

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First half

Just one foul in the first six minutes as the refs have decided, thankfully, to let the players be the stars today. As a result, we've seen a lot of banging inside. Josh Owens leads Stanford with six points, but Minnesota's big, Rodney Williams, leads all players with seven as the Gophers have staked a two-point lead. Anthony Brown started this game where he left off against Massachusetts, draining a three. Minnesota guard Andre Hollins, probably the best player on the court, has been quiet early, but the feeling here is that he's going to get it going sooner rather than later.

16-minute mark: Minnesota 14, Stanford 12

We are playing to an all too familiar template now: great defense paired with questionable offense. Dwight Powell singlehandedly forced three turnovers since the last TV timeout, but on the other end, the Card committed several turnovers of their own and Josh Huestis airballed from three feet out. [Edit: Reviewing the halftime stats, the official scorer has recorded about every other turnover thus far. I'm going with my lying eyes.] The only scoring in the mini-period came off a Chasson Randle three, but it was enough to give Stanford its first lead since 5-4. Minnesota comes out with several reserves in the next period, while we come out in a zone and showing a full-court press, which we do not do too frequently. Did you know: The team received a pregame pep talk from, of all people, Ray Lewis.

12-minute mark: Stanford 15, Minnesota 14

We continue to play with great passion on the defensive end, as Powell registers another block, Bright dives to the floor to force a tie up and we draw two charges (apparently now known as "player control fouls" – why?) Our bench is up on its feet and cheering loudly on defensive stands, as they seem much more plugged in than their counterparts on the maroon and gold's pine. Biggest difference over the last few minutes has come on open threes – we missed three of them, by my count, while Minnesota made two to open up a four-point edge.

Eight-minute mark: Minnesota 21, Stanford 17

Debate on press row: would you rather be one-and-done in the NCAA Tournament or make the NIT Championship? Count me in the latter camp. First, more games, more wins and more exposure are all good things in of themselves, and second, it's great preparation for the next season.

One of the craziest sequences I've seen in a long while: A steal leads to a Jarrett Mann breakaway. He puts the layup long, but Josh Owens is there to clean up… only he clanks his follow-up dunk attempt off the rim. (For the second game in a row.) Minnesota moves quickly in transition the other way, but then it's a Mann block and now we're sprinting back the other way. Mann again tries for a layup, and it's blocked as well – into the net. All's well that ends well, I suppose.

Defensively, we look like a Final Four team. We have three steals and four blocks, and Minnesota has missed at least three additional shots from point-blank range they tried to throw over would-be blocks. They're shooting just 9-of-23 and we're +3 on the boards. Offensively, meanwhile, it's all Aaron Bright. He puts in a three pointer and a free throw, and follows that up by swishing two long twos. Huestis and Mann each have buckets inside as well, as Stanford uses a 12-0 run to take a 29-21 lead.

Four-minute mark: Stanford 31, Minnesota 23

Overheard on the Minnesota bench: "It's a moving screen!" That wasn't called, but an obvious charge on Zimmerman does get whistled. No worries for "Grizzly Zimm", who calmly draws a charge on NBA prospect Rodney Williams the very next possession. Coach subs Zimm out. Hey, now it's our potential starting lineup for next year out there: Dwight Powell, Huestis, Chasson Randle, Brown and Bright. Bright is pushing his luck a little bit as he gets stripped on consecutive possessions trying to drive the lane. Coach subs Bright out. Apparently it's contagious as Heustis tries to go one-on-four with similar success. Coach wants a timeout. We come back out and now Randle takes his turn trying to be the hero -- and gets blocked. Can't stress enough how well our defense is playing – despite the turnover parade, our effort never wavers, and the results continue to speak for themselves as Minnesota's on pace for all of 50 points. Dwight Powell doesn't like a held ball call and has to be restrained by his teammates to avoid a technical foul. Randle then travels for our fifth straight turnover to end the half, yet somehow we have a six-point lead and I feel like we're in pretty good shape. I guess defense does win championships.

Halftime: Stanford 31, Minnesota 25


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