Nine days ago, Stanford looked like a sure bet for a tournament team. They looked like a squad that was threatening the fringe of the Pac-12’s upper tier.
Two losses later, who knows?
The defensive lapses that largely led to losses against Washington State and UCLA have put a cloud over the Cardinal of late. Stanford (15-7, 6-4 Pac-12; RPI #46) gets back on the horse Sunday night against snake-bitten USC.
The Cardinal should beat the Trojans. But rarely has the 2014-15 Stanford men’s basketball season followed the script. That was the case on Thursday against UCLA. The Bruins built a 22-point lead and should have won easily. Instead, the Cardinal fought back and had a chance to win the game at the buzzer. But when Chasson Randle’s desperation three-pointer lipped off the rim at the buzzer, UCLA survived with a 69-67 win over Stanford.
USC (9-13, 1-9; RPI #173) was picked to finish 10th in the Pac-12 preseason poll. So far, they are not living up to those lowly expectations, comfortably inhabiting the conference’s cellar. Their only conference win to date came against Cal on January 7. On Thursday, the Trojans had a chance to sweep the Bears, but Cal’s Tyrone Wallace ruined that idea with a buzzer-beating three-pointer that gave the Bears a 70-69 win.
Entering the week, Stanford had not lost back-to-back games this season. But the last two outcomes have some fretting that the Card mat be firmly on the tournament bubble right now. For Johnny Dawkins, the tournament seems to be the farthest thing from his mind at this point.
“We have to rebound [from the UCLA loss],” he said on Thursday night. “I don’t look at how tough it is. We have to rebound. For what we want to do this year, we have to make sure that we bounce back. Adversity is part of a season. We’re facing adversity right now. We need to make sure that we’re going in the right direction.”
While Stanford has dropped consecutive games, USC has problems of its own. The Trojans’ have lost seven straight, their skid beginning on January 11 at the Galen Center against the Cardinal. USC faced a 74-61 deficit with 8:25 left, but had a chance to win the game in the final seconds.
However, the Card crossed up the Trojans with a zone defense, and Jordan McLaughlin stumbled and lost the ball on his way to the hoop. A final free throw by Stefan Nastic—Stanford’s only point over the game’s final 5:25—closed out the scoring, and the Cardinal left town with a 78-76 win.
Since then, the losses have kept coming for USC. The Trojans have been routed, losing home games to UCLA and Utah by a combined 45 points. They have also come tantalizingly close, losing by four at Oregon State, suffering a triple-overtime defeat to Colorado, and, most recently, getting gutpunched in Berkeley.
Many of the Trojans’ struggles can be attributed to youth. On their 14-man roster, eleven players are either freshmen or sophomores, and none are seniors. One of the few constants for the Trojans has been sophomore forward Nikola Jovanovic, who leads USC with 13 points per game and 7.6 rebounds per game. McLaughlin and Reinhardt score 12.1 and 12 points per game, respectively.
Sophomore guard Julian Jacobs and sophomore forward Darion Clark fill out the rest of head coach Andy Enfield’s probable starting lineup. Freshman guard Malik Marquetti and freshman forward Malik Martin started against Stanford on January 11, but both have come off the bench in the Trojans’ last two games.
Stanford was lethal from three in the first half on January 11, hitting nine treys on USC. Rosco Allen made four of those three-pointers and scored a career-high 18 points in that game. This will be the Trojans’ first look at Reid Travis, who missed the first game with his thigh injury. Chasson Randle—who has played at least 37 minutes in five of his last six games—will look to bounce back from a 4-for-13 shooting night (1-of-8 from three-point range) against UCLA.********** ********** **********
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