Tough. Selfless. Invested.
Those are the three bedrock attributes for Jerod Haase’s Stanford Basketball team, and they were all on display in an aesthetically challenged but ultra-gritty 66-52 win over a physical, well-coached, and aggressive Seton Hall team. The Pirates, you may recall, were the last team to beat defending national champion Villanova.
Stanford started out struggling mightily against the physicality, on-ball pressure, and coordination of Seton Hall’s defense had the Cardinal completely out of sorts. Stanford trailed 24-14 with 7:23 to go in the first half. Christian Sanders hit a pair of free throws, and then Dorian Pickens went to work. Stanford’s swingman hit two tough jumpers and a tough drive to the hoop, and thanks to its own tenacious defense, caught the Pirates at 26-26 at the half.
Stanford shot 38% in the half, but started the game by making only six of 19 shots. The run that closed the half seemed to stabilize the team heading into the locker room, and in the second half they dominated.
Seton hall shot 25% in the second half. They made seven field goals and Stanford turned them over 13 times and limited the Pirates to an offensive efficiency rating of 74.3. Once again, the Cardinal’s now signature 4-5 Post double team triggered turnovers and disarray on the part of an opponent. Errant passes, forced drives, and closed out passing lanes all ensued, as Stanford smothered Seton Hall all over the court.
Stanford had nine steals in the second half, three of them from Pickens, who played a complete game in leading the Cardinal on offense with 21 points on 7-12 shooting. Pickens shot 19-34 (56%) in the three games in Orlando, and looks increasingly comfortable in Coach Haase’s offense. He came off curls, found driving lanes, and his teammates found him off of some nice two-man actions.
One of those teammates was Marcus Allen, who played perhaps his finest game of the season. Allen only had five points, but that doesn’t begin to represent his impact on the game. He made 3-4 free throws, had four assists and two steals, and played incredible on ball and help defense all night. Stanford was a +20 in Allen’s 35 minutes on the floor.
Reid Travis contributed 16 points on 8-12 shooting and also had seven rebounds. Turnovers were a problem, as he had five, many of them due to being double and triple-teamed down low. Nevertheless, he was still an anchor for the Cardinal offense and a presence defensively as well.
Stanford once again struggled mightily from distance, shooting a brutal 2-15 from behind the three point line. They also didn’t get the overall ball movement they wanted, assisting on only nine of its 24 buckets. Marcus Sheffield and Michael Humphrey continue to slump, shooting only 2-10 from the field.
But at the end of the day, that’s what made this game so significant. Stanford had to fight itself, and it had to fight a very physical and well-coached opponent. The Cardinal came out in the second half, found some offense off turnovers (+10 for the game), and even started to find some cutting lanes for some easy buckets. The Cardinal had an 111.1 offensive efficiency rating in the second half.
Nothing quantifies Stanford’s toughness better than the floor burn count. Stanford had 11 floor burns in this game, a whopping six of them from Grant Verhoeven. It was glorious in its own way watching how desperately the Cardinal wanted to win this game, and how resolute it was in its refusal to leave Orlando with a losing record.
Stanford moves on now to its most daunting week of the season. The Cardinal hosts St. Mary’s on Wednesday night at Maples Pavilion, and then travels to Lawrence for the first of four meetings over the next four seasons with the Kansas Jayhawks. The Cardinal was mauled in Moraga last season, and won’t face a tougher opponent in a tougher venue all season then in next Saturday’s trip to the Phog.
Does Stanford have what it takes to beat these teams? Time will tell. One thing we know after tonight: they have the toughness.