Entering Saturday’s contest, Stanford has a third straight win, a road sweep in conference play for the first time in five years, and a chance to start 7-2 in Pac-12 play within reach. But long-time Pac-12 followers know full well that nothing comes easy when a trip to Pullman is involved.
Such are the stakes for the Cardinal (15-5, 6-2 Pac-12; RPI #28), who take on Washington State (9-11, 3-5; RPI #145) in the Palouse. The 5:30 p.m. tipoff features two teams that appear to be heading in opposite directions as the calendar heads towards February.
The Cardinal are coming off an impressive 84-74 win over Washington, Stanford’s first in Seattle since 2008. Taking advantage of the Huskies’ depleted front line, Stefan Nastic owned the paint and set the tone with 15 first-half points. After Nastic ran into foul trouble, Anthony Brown, Marcus Allen, and the rest of the Cardinal took over, running out to a 26-point lead.
Still, the Card seemed to have a slightly sour taste in their mouths after the game was over, mostly because the Huskies ratcheted up the tempo, went into streetball-mode, and turned a rout into a somewhat respectable final score.
“We need to keep improving,” Stefan Nastic groused on the Cardinal Sports Network after the win. “I was disappointed in ourselves, and how we handled [the final ten minutes]. We need to focus on that and really take that more seriously.”
While Stanford seems hungry for a complete game, it has been feast or famine for Washington State during Pac-12 play. Since winning three straight and starting off 3-1, the Cougars have lost four in a row. On Thursday, they led with 3:35 to go against Cal, and the Bears were in danger of losing their seventh straight. Instead, Cal closed out the Cougs, 76-67.
Defense has been a major problem of late for Washington State. They allowed 76 points to a Cal squad that has put up pre-shot clock-style scores on occasion. Utah blasted them for 86 points. Colorado torched them for 90. In an overtime win over Oregon, they still allowed 94 points in regulation. That could be good news for a Stanford team that has shot 50% or better in three straight games.
Senior guard DaVonté Lacy leads the Cougars with 17.2 points per game. Sophomore forward Josh Hawkinson isn’t far behind with 15.2 points per game, but he leads the team in rebounds per game (10.8) and blocks (26). Fifth-year center Jordan Railey averages just 5.5 points per game, and has struggled somewhat on the boards.
Earlier this week, Cougars head coach (and familiar face) Ernie Kent openly worried that his younger starters (Hawkinson, sophomore Ike Iroegbu, and freshman Ny Redding) were hitting the wall. Indeed, those three have been playing more minutes, but their production has stagnated.
Stanford has a chance to sweep the Cougars before January is out. Four weeks ago, the Cardinal recovered from a sluggish start to get the 71-56 win over Washington State. Chasson Randle and Stefan Nastic scored 18 and 16 points, respectively, but the Cardinal were largely paced by a solid effort from their bench.********** ********** **********
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