Stanford Knocks Down the Defending Champ

It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win for Stanford over the defending national champions.

If Saturday night’s game between Stanford and Connecticut had been judged on style points, it’s possible neither team would have won. Fortunately for the Cardinal, basketball games come down to points on the scoreboard.

The Cardinal broke away from the Huskies in the second half, pulling off a 72-59 victory. Stanford (13-4) was led by 23 points from Chasson Randle and 18 points from Anthony Brown. The Cardinal have won seven of their last eight. UConn (9-7) dropped its second straight overall, and its second straight to the Cardinal.

“They’re still the national champs from last year,” Rosco Allen reminded the media after the game. “That’s still a big thing. We just had to come out and fight against this team. We had to be ready for them and their high energy.

“Just toughness,” Randle replied when asked for his key to beating the Huskies again. “I think we played really tough both last year and this year. We understand that they’re a great program, and to be recognized as an elite program, you have to beat those types of teams. That’s what we wanted to do tonight.”

While UConn may be struggling this year, they still wear the belt. The first appearance by a defending national champion squad at Maples Pavilion since 1998 brought a palpable buzz to the building before the game. It also helped bring 7,104 fans through the turnstiles, a season high in home attendance for Stanford.

Randle certainly noticed the near-capacity crowd. “Man, it was awesome,” he beamed afterwards. “Just to have Maples filled up to the top like that, it definitely gives us a boost of energy when we’re on the floor.”

Indeed there was energy on the floor throughout the game, but much of it appeared to be nervous energy. The Cardinal and the Huskies made their share of unforced errors, took turns blowing easy buckets, and spent the evening making things harder for themselves. It seemed that both teams spent much of the night trying to find a gear that just wasn’t there. A gear that may have been there for Stanford and UConn in 1999, mind you, but not on Saturday.

Johnny Dawkins sensed it too. “We had a talk at halftime about settling down,” he said. “Everyone was so anxious to play this one. Playing UConn on national television, I’m sure our guys were fired up. With that, you can have some nervous energy. We were getting some good looks, we just weren’t finishing them. In the second half, we turned that around and started making them.”

While Stanford settled down, UConn went nearly comatose. The Card took advantage, as Marcus Allen’s transition layup off a sweet dish from Rosco Allen put Stanford ahead 47-42 with 14:20 left. From there, Rosco Allen hit a three-pointer (his first bucket of the night), then added another three-pointer two minutes later.

An array of Stanford putbacks, hook shots, free throws, and UConn bricks followed, and when Chasson Randle’s three-pointer connected, Stanford had a 64-49 lead with 4:27 left. Things were never in doubt from there.

The eye-popping note from the stat sheet could be found in the rebound category. Stanford doubled up UConn, 48-24 on the boards. Rosco Allen had 13 (all defensive), while Stefan Nastic overcame a cut on his forehead to grab twelve boards (eight offensive). As a team, UConn had just four offensive rebounds on the night. Marcus Allen had four offensive rebounds by himself.

“We challenged them before the game,” Cardinal head coach Johnny Dawkins said after the game. “If we were going to have a chance to be successful, we were gonna have to board. They’re very active, they’re long. If we weren’t going to meet their activity, then that would really hurt us in the game. We really executed the game plan as well as we could.”

“It was an emphasis of ours,” Rosco Allen confirmed. “We have Grant [Verhoeven] and Reid [Travis] out, so we need guys to step up in that area. Stefan, Anthony, Marcus, we all did a great job on that.”

During his postgame press conference, Dawkins revealed that Verhoeven (hip) is out indefinitely, and may miss the rest of the season. An update on Travis (thigh) is expected this upcoming week.

The first half was fraught with ragged and unsettled basketball by both teams. But, at times, Stanford looked alert and cohesive on both ends of the floor. Hitting transition buckets, dishing assists, and hustling for rebounds, the Card worked to an eight-point lead on two separate occasions.

But after going up 20-12 with 11:02 remaining, the Huskies snatched the momentum back with an 8-0 run. Meanwhile, Stanford went 0-for-7 from the floor, and game was tied at 20 apiece with 8:15 left.

The Cardinal recovered, as a floater by Chasson Randle put Stanford ahead by six with 5:05 to go. But Stanford’s nasty habit of disappearing offensively in the final minutes of a half reappeared, as the Card hit just one of eight from the floor the rest of the way. Overall, Stanford made just four of its final 20 attempts in the half. Still, the Cardinal led at the break, 32-29. They were also able to restore order and play well when it mattered most.

The Cardinal return to Pac-12 action on Thursday, as Arizona (16-2, 4-1; AP #10) comes to Maples for a 6 p.m. tipoff. On Saturday, the Wildcats pulled away from the eighth-ranked Utah Utes, 69-51 in Tucson. Arizona guard T.J. McConnell put up 16 points and dished six assists.

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