Those two losses marked an inauspicious start to Stanford's conference season. The Card then hit rock bottom in a 75-54 loss at Colorado on January 24, but have rallied to win four of their last five games. A sweep of the Trojans and Bruins this weekend would adorn Stanford with an enviable 8-5 conference record with five games left to play. The Bootleg projects that a 12-6 overall mark would position the Cardinal well for their first Big Dance since 2008.
Alas, Stanford has a razor-thin margin for error the rest of the way. Three road games remain, including the season finale at California. So, the four remaining contests at Maples Pavilion are virtually must-win affairs if Johnny Dawkins' club is to avoid major disappointment in the fifth year of the coach's tenure.
Continued sharpshooting from the outside is Stanford's definite key moving forward. The Cardinal are leading the Pac-12 with their 45.1 percent long-range mark, which is actually higher than the team's overall 41.7 field goal percentage.
"Guys have found a rhythm," Dawkins said. "It's been a work in progress, but we've found it. We can still finish better at the hoop. But we're shooting better from outside."
The Cardinal's coach asserted that nothing about his team has changed offensively since a cold-shooting preseason, except for the fact that previously unsuccessful shots are now falling. But Stanford's offensive and aggression and cohesiveness have certainly sharpened as the team has enjoyed marked shooting improvement and found consistency in finishing games. Aaron Bright's assist-to-turnover ratio, for one, has shot up.
"We made the plays we needed to down the stretch," Dawkins said of his club's recent win at Arizona State, in which the Cardinal survived after almost blowing a 16-point second half lead. Dawkins admitted that he was extremely nervous on the bench after Dwight Powell's inbound pass with 0.7 seconds remaining hit the scoreboard and kept the door open for the Sun Devils. "How can this be happening?" he thought to himself. But Andy Brown saved the day by channeling his inner Ed Reynolds with a game-sealing interception.
Now, Stanford hopes to continue its recent success into rematch territory. The team struggled from the field in Los Angeles, shooting 39 percent at the Galen Center and registering just a 34 percent clip at Pauley Pavilion.
"It's time to defend our home court," Dawkins said. "We weren't efficient offensively [the first time we played them]. Now, we've been able to study film. We're recreating situations on the court that we faced the first time so that we can prepare for them."
The club will have to get the job done with Chasson Randle playing at less than 100 percent. He sprained his ankle at Arizona but is expected to play through the injury this weekend.
Radio: Player of the Week
Josh Huestis, averaging 9.8 points and 9.4 rebounds per game, has a chance to be the first Stanford player to average a double-double since Curtis Borchard did in 2002. His shot-blocking ability has later entered a new gear, too. He joined The Bootleg Radio.
David Lombardi is the Stanford Football Insider for The Bootleg and FOX Sports Next. Check him out at www.davidlombardisports.com. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidMLombardi.
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