Stefan Nastic, Anthony Brown, and Chasson Randle have one more chance to thrill the home crowd. Those three fifth-year seniors are also on track to earning their master’s degrees. But, for one senior, the festivities of Senior Day seem to be far from mind.
“For me, it’s a big game [because] Oregon is ahead of us in the standings,” Brown said on Thursday. “Outside of that, I haven’t really thought about it too much. We’re just trying to get the win.”
That quote illustrates two things. One, the team-first dynamic that the Cardinal seem to have embraced. And two, the gravity of their situation as a team squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble.
After struggling through much of February, Stanford (18-0, 9-6 Pac-12; RPI #51) looks to close its regular season home slate with a third straight win. To get it, they will have to knock off the surging Oregon Ducks, who seem to be above the Cardinal in the pecking order for Tournament spots.
Now that the calendar has turned to March, the urgency has increased for the entire conference. “Everybody’s playing desperate right now,” Cardinal head coach Johnny Dawkins said on Thursday. “Everybody’s playing for something right now. So are we. We need to stay focused and protect our home court.”
Randle, Brown, and Nastic will pull much of the weight there. But while Sunday’s spotlight will be on the seniors, Stanford hopes two youngsters continue to steal the show. Michael Humphrey’s back-to-back double-doubles are a first for a Stanford freshman since Tim Young notched three straight in 1995. Reid Travis has been solid in Stanford’s mini-surge, putting in quality minutes against California and Oregon State.
Those two have also been instrumental in helping lead the Card’s defensive efforts. On Thursday, Oregon State’s offense crashed in the second half, scoring merely 18 points. When the Cardinal have been at their best this season, their work on defense has led the way.
Stanford’s defense will need to be ready on Sunday. Oregon (21-8, 11-5; RPI #39) leads the league in scoring and assists. Since getting run off the floor in a 34-point loss at Arizona, the Ducks have put it together to win seven of eight games. The crown jewel in their recent run is a 69-58 win over then-No. 9 Utah. An 80-69 win over California gives the Ducks their current three-game winning streak.
This is coming off a tumultuous offseason punctuated by a sexual assault case involving three Oregon players who were dismissed from the team after the allegations surfaced. Dana Altman’s Ducks were picked to finish eighth in the Pac-12 preseason media poll, but will finish no lower than tied for fourth when the regular season finishes. And right now, Oregon would likely have the Pac-12’s third spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Sunday’s game marks a matchup of the top two scorers in the conference. Only Oregon senior guard Joseph Young averages more points per game (19.9) than Chasson Randle (19.4). His game-winning bucket lifted the Ducks to an overtime victory at Arizona State that started Oregon’s great run. Against Cal, Young scored 21 first-half points en route to a 25-point night.
Like Randle, Young is also automatic from the free-throw line. Ranked fifth in free-throw percentage nationally (91.2%), Young has missed just nine free throws for the season and five during Pac-12 play. Randle has hit 90.5% from the line this season.
Freshman forwards Jordan Bell and Dillon Brooks have made an impact. Bell already owns the school record for blocks in a single season and is the team’s leading rebounder (6.4 per game). Brooks is averaging 12 points per game. Junior forward Elgin Cook averages 12.7 points per game. Senior guard Jalil Abdul-Bassit rounds out Oregon’s probable starting lineup; he hits over 42% from three-point range.
Versatile junior forward Dwayne Benjamin has started 12 games, but has proven his worth as an option off the bench. Benjamin was huge in Berkeley, dropping 18 points (including a dagger three-pointer) and 10 rebounds on the Bears.
If it gets close late, the Ducks may have an advantage. Eight of Oregon’s wins have come by seven points or less, with three coming in overtime. Stanford is 2-4 this season in games decided by five points or less.
Rosco Allen (back) has missed the last four games, but was cleared to practice on Friday. His availability for the Oregon game will be determined after Sunday’s shootaround.********** ********** **********
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