Snake eyes

A review of Stanford's two games in Las Vegas in the Pac-12 Tournament

Results: Beat Washington 71-69, Lost to Utah 80-56

    Stanford hit the MGM Grand in a situation gamblers try assiduously to avoid.  The Cardinal's underachieving season could only be redeemed by winning four in a row and securing the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Unfortunately, Stanford's hopes were tied to two thoroughbreds running on dead legs.  When the only option is to win, it doesn't really matter whether or not you placed or showed.  Stanford did neither.

    The fact that the Cardinal was playing on Wednesday was the first sign that their quest was ill-fated.  Their no-show in the Arizona desert left them stuck having to win four games in four days.  The first day saw them take on the Washington Huskies, a team enduring the sunk wreckage undone from a loss of key personnel.   Nonetheless, the Huskies had managed two wins that Stanford would be forced to envy. The Huskies beat Oklahoma and Utah this season, which stand as far better than any single accomplishment the Cardinal could muster this year. Washington came in with nothing to lose, and they played like it. The Huskies took advantage of some hot shooting and late-rotating Stanford defense and went scorching hot from long range.  The UW's massive eFG advantage was built largely on an incredible 13-20 3PT performance that featured a 3-4 performance from Dan Kingma and a 3-3 from Mike Anderson. Kingma was the feel-good story of the game in the first half, when he hit three from three (his 5th, 6th, and 7th on the entire year) and then was the tragic victim when he missed the front end of a key one and one that could have helped Washington ice the game.
    Dominating the shooting component of the Four Factors usually ensures victory, but Stanford was able to win all three of the other categories and get some late lightning from Chasson Randle, who finally got a last second shot to go down after misfiring on a number of such opportunities during the year. Stanford returned to the ball security that had defined its play so often earlier in the year.  That turned out to be a huge payout for the Cardinal, who went +13 in points off turnovers, continuing a trend that stayed constant throughout all three games Stanford played the Huskies this season. The Cardinal also pounded the offensive glass, securing a +7 advantage in 2nd chance points.   Points 5,6, and seven proved to be the most memorable, as Marcus Allen, 6'3" Marcus Allen, skied to secure a Rosco Allen jumper and then passed out to Chasson Randle who launched a three from the left wing that found the bottom of the net and gave Stanford a heart-stopping lease on life on Wednesday night.

    That lease was extended to halftime of the Thursday night quarterfinal against Utah.  Stanford went into the locker room up five points on the Mighty Utes, and with two days to go before Justin Bieber's 21st at Caesar's, the Cardinal was slowly accumulating believers in advance of the arriving Belie-bers.  Unfortunately, Stanford's hopes were ground to dust in the second half when the bill for paying tired, desperate, and shorthanded finally came due.  Utah found its game, but more importantly, Stanford lost its legs, and that meant Chasson Randle futilely going one on five until game's end.  Utah's rebounding advantage in the second half was 29 to five.  That's right.  Five total rebounds for the half. It certainly seemed that way as the half went on.  As shots were cast up, there seemed to be nothing but white Utah jerseys flying up at the rim.  The Utes parlayed 11 offensive rebounds into a 13-0 advantage in second chance points, turning what was becoming a comfortable win into an absolute throttling that the MGM hadn't seen since the Drago-Creed fight in Rocky IV
    The Utes didn't miss many shots in the second half either, as they went 8-12 from behind the three point line, leaving Stanford's meager 6-24 FG output well into the distance of its rear view mirror. Stanford had been blown off the floor in convincing fashion.  The Cardinal's hopes had been lost in the flood of Utah's temporarily regained brilliance, and the numbers ended up as a stunning documentation of just how thoroughly outclassed the Cardinal had been in the second half.

What To Like:

Brown and Randle, the Platinum Backcourt
: There's not a more unfortunate aspect to the nearly unwatchable collapse of Stanford's season than the demise of these two standout performers.  Asked to carry a superhuman burden all year long, they took the floor and gave all that they had left.  Unfortunately, there just wasn't any negotiating with the exhaustion that had swallowed up their energy and stole their games.  Anthony, after playing 40 minutes on Wednesday night, could muster nothing more than an offensive rating of 52, constructed of 1-6 overall shooting and adding up to only two points. Chasson went out guns blazing to his credit, scoring 22 points on a respectable 7-16 overall shooting night.  However, that included a 4-9 second half that saw him attempt only one free throw as he courageously tried to take on the entire Utah team while his teammates spectated as they'd been conditioned to do during the season.

The Triangle Offense...was ultimately short-circuited by the collapse of the Platinum Backcourt. The 88.9 rating was partially attributable to Utah's defense, but ultimately Stanford just had no bullets left in the chamber when Chasson and Anthony cratered

Reid Travis:  Played almost certainly his best game of the year against Washington, posting an outstanding ORtg of 138, going 5-8 from the field and 4-6 from the line. He also added five rebounds in 21 minutes of work.  Reid was far less effective the following night against Utah, but then again so was everybody on the Stanford roster.  Coach Schrage reminded me again that Reid wasn't just coming back from an injury this year, but also recovering from an injury as a high schooler.  The strength is definitely there in his game. When the burst and the polish join the party, he's going to be scary good. There is probably no bigger single reason Stanford is preparing for the NIT and not the NCAA Tournament.  Yes, the team went 7-2 without him available, but one of those losses was the brutal stumble in Pullman, and he wasn't nearly 100% when Stanford dropped the rematch to UCLA and then lost at Colorado.  Any two of those three and the Cardinal is assuredly in the field of 68.


Depth:  Chasson played less than 30 minutes only three times all season long. He did not go under 30 minutes after January 11 at USC.  He played 35 or more minutes in 22 of Stanford's 32 games, including 45 and 49 on back to back games at WSU and vs. UCLA.  Anthony played less than 30 minutes twice all year, and 35 or more in 22 games, just like Chasson. Dorian Pickens, the most compatible physical stand-in for Anthony, played less than 10 minutes 18 times.  In January, while Chasson and Anthony were accumulating so much mileage, he played a total of 96 minutes in 10 games.  Anthony played 88 minutes in just two games against the Cougars and Bruins in consecutive games.  It wasn't Pickens' job exclusively to spell these two, and maybe the coaches were correct in assessing the youngsters as just not ready to play 15 minutes a game or more, but the bottom line is that despite strong strides made by Michael Humphrey and Marcus Allen and flashes shown by Pickens and Robert Cartwright, a lack of depth killed the Cardinal.  It was like watching a slow death, as it was an issue the very first time Stanford took the court against any kind of opposition.

Defense:  Marcus Allen needed no time to identify this as the team's major problem aside from bad injury luck.  I'm not going to disagree. Despite the fact that the Cardinal ended up as a top half (5th) team in the conference, the truth is that they did not defend nearly consistently enough to be successful. They couldn't stop penetration, couldn't close effectively on shooters, fouled way too often, made unnecessary switches that led to bad matchups, didn't negotiate screens off the ball, and didn't get back on defense consistently.  Coach Dawkins has preached defense since he arrived, but the message certainly didn't take this season.

    And now Stanford finds itself in the NIT, a finish absolutely nobody inside or outside the program finds easily acceptable. I can respect the argument  that the practice time will benefit those players returning next year, and there is something a bit petulant about refusing a postseason bid, but I really wish Stanford wasn't playing tomorrow night. After the one week stay in the St. Louis Oasis last March, I wanted so badly to believe that the program had turned a corner. I searched all year long for signs that things were different, but ultimately they weren't.  Now the Cardinal faces all the same questions, and must go through all the frustration just to start anew this summer. It's getting to feel more and more like we are all Charlie Brown, swinging our legs to kick while Lucy removes the football and once again  we are flat on our back, woozy and dejected.  The problem is that the number of Charlie Browns in the seats is dwindling, while Lucy never seems to run out of footballs.

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