Mental toughness has been a talking point for Stanford all season long. Coach Jerod Haase implemented the floor burns stat but was quick to point out that his definition of toughness went far beyond physical toughness. On Saturday night in Tempe Stanford’s players had nobody to blame but themselves as they fell to a lesser Arizona State Sun Devil time for the second time this year, 75-69.
The Cardinal dominated the paint for the second straight game, building staggering margins in both points in the paint (+24) and rebounds (+22) only to have victory undermined by their usual inability to defend or make threes (-27 from beyond the arc) and two other self-inflicted wounds that really sealed their fate.
Stanford shot 4-11 from the free throw line in the second half to finish 8-16 for the game. Arizona State ended up +9 thanks to that inability to make foul shots. Reid Travis went 1-5, an uncharacteristic total for him this season, but he was not alone in missing free throws, an act that is entirely devoid of coaching impact in the heat of a game.
The other area where Stanford short-circuited itself was with turnovers. Arizona State is above average in Pac-12 play in defensive turnover percentage (4th at 18.4%) but on this night Stanford turned it over on a staggering 28% of its possessions. Only six of the Cardinal’s 21 turnovers were credited as steals, illustrating just how severely Stanford did itself in with regard to this aspect of the game.
Credit Arizona State with playing it out and not giving in when the Cardinal built a nine-point lead with 9:19 to go in the second half on a nice Reid Travis driving layup. However, this is far more of a Stanford loss than a Sun Devil win. The Cardinal lost focus and their poise followed down the stretch, with numerous opportunities to win the game at the end going by the wayside.
In their final four possessions, the Cardinal went turnover, turnover, missed 3, missed 3 to close out the game. Combine that with the Cardinal’s scoreless final two minutes in Tucson and Stanford heads home with the rare road sweep that could very easily have been two wins instead of losses.
If you are looking for positives, it is that Stanford looked more and more like a team that understands now how it can play and be successful. This is Reid Travis’ basketball team, and that is how it should. The free throws aside, Travis is stepping up to the responsibility. He had 17 points on 8-14 shooting and 11 rebounds. He continues to showcase vastly improved footwork and body control. It’s a big a deal that he only had three fouls in 35 minutes as anything else.
Marcus Allen and Michael Humphrey have had strong upticks in their play of late, and that continued against Arizona State. Humphrey has sustained both his motor and his place playing alongside Travis for the first time in his Stanford career. Yes, he once more struggled with foul trouble, which will forthwith be known as “Humph-reitis,” but he also had 16 points, 13 rebounds, two steals and a block. He was active all night long, challenging for every rebound and moving all over the floor in compliment to Travis.
Allen, for his part, has played so well to his strengths and it reached a crescendo in Tempe. He put up 20 points and seven rebounds against the Sun Devils and has been a constant rim attacker and effective finisher both in transition and in the halfcourt, where he has made the baseline his office. Individually, Stanford has some players on the come up, but it didn’t come together as a team in the desert. The Cardinal will head home no doubt thinking what might have been, and with five games remaining, the time for what can be to materialize this year is waning quickly.