Stanford’s Rule of Three Beats USC

The Cardinal get red-hot early, then hold off the Trojans late to eke out a key win.

Surely Stanford wouldn’t cough up another double-digit second-half lead and lose in Los Angeles again, would they?

No. But once again, it was a real possibility.

Riding a barrage of first half three-pointers, the Cardinal escaped the Galen Center with a 78-76 win over USC on Sunday night. Stanford (11-4, 3-1 Pac-12) earned a split result in its Los Angeles swing, dealing USC (9-7, 1-3) a narrow defeat.

Anthony Brown led with 21 points, ten rebounds and five assists. Rosco Allen scored 18 points, a career-high. Stefan Nastic scored 15 points, and Chasson Randle chipped in with 12 more.

USC guard Jordan McLaughlin had a chance to complete a Trojan comeback from a 13-point hole. Down 77-76 with eight seconds left, McLaughlin looked to put USC ahead for the first time. But Stanford crossed up the Trojans with a zone, and McLaughlin stumbled and lost the ball as he drove the lane. Stefan Nastic corralled the loose ball, then hit a free throw for the game’s final margin.

“[Stanford assistant coach Charles] Payne said to look at a zone,” head coach Johnny Dawkins told the Cardinal Sports Network after the game. “It’s something that you have to believe in. We play zone fairly well, and it was a short clock, so [I said], ‘you know what? Let’s do it.’”

That defensive stop saved Stanford’s bacon. Three nights after blowing a 14-point second-half lead in a loss to UCLA, Stanford disappeared completely from view in the second half’s final minutes again versus the Trojans. A layup by Nastic gave the Card a 74-61 lead with 8:25 left. After that, Stanford made just one more field goal the rest of the game. Only Nastic’s final free throw with 1.7 seconds left prevented the Cardinal from going completely scoreless over the final 5:25. Stanford missed its final six shots from the floor.

Dawkins offered up his own theories for the Card’s struggle to close out a big lead on USC. “I thought we fell asleep a few times on box-outs and rotations,” he said. “That allowed them to get some buckets. The other thing we have to do is execute better offensively. I thought we turned it over down the stretch a little too much. A little uncharacteristic of us, but we’ll learn from it. I can’t wait to show our guys the tape.”

“We just didn’t close it out,” Rosco Allen confessed to the Cardinal Sports Network. “Shots we usually make just weren’t falling as they did in the first half. We’re gonna be back at it, working on closing out games and holding on to leads.”

The shots that fell for Stanford in the first half, for the most part, were three-pointers. The Cardinal had another unstoppable stretch beyond the arc, hitting nine longballs in the first half alone. During one sequence, Stanford hit four straight treys on four straight shots from the floor. Rosco Allen hit two, and Anthony Brown hit two more. All four were wide open shots. Stanford led by as much as ten points before taking a 49-43 lead into halftime.

Stanford lived by the three in the first half. In the second half, they almost died by it, hitting just one of 12 attempts. The one make was critical, however. The Trojans converted two quick drives to the hoop and cut the Cardinal’s lead to 59-55 with 13:35 left. But just when it seemed like the Trojans were finally gaining life, Rosco Allen drained a cold-blooded three to put the Card up by seven with 13:20 remaining. The Trojans went silent until their final flurry.

Still, the Cardinal spent much of the second half missing threes. Dawkins spent part of his postgame radio interview addressing the notion that his team fell in love with hoisting three-point shots. “You’re absolutely right,” he said. “We’re going to discuss that. That’s not what we build our team on, and we’re starting to fall into that trap. We know we can shoot the basketball, but that’s not what we want to hang our hat on.”

Rosco Allen had another impressive performance off the bench, fearlessly driving to the hoop and knocking down big three-pointers. “I’m happy to come off the bench and be a little energy boost for the guys,” he said. “It’s been working out, so I’m happy. I can’t believe it took me 15 games [to settle in], but I’m happy.”

Stanford closes out the three-game road swing by heading to Berkeley, where Cal (11-6, 1-3; RPI #101) awaits. The Bears’ 73-54 loss to UCLA on Sunday sealed a sweep by the Los Angeles schools.

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