Hernandez Breaks Out In Big Way

There have been more questions about Chris Hernandez than any other starter on this Stanford Basketball squad. Will his foot hold? Will his back limit him? Can he defend top-flight point guards? Can he score? We're only two games into this 2003-04 season, but encouraging answers came forth Tuesday night in Stanford's first road game. Hernandez led the way with 22 points in the 72-59 win at UC Irvine...

For all the Cardinalmaniacs who just suffered a heart attack reading "Hernandez" and "break" in the same sentence, take a deep breath and know that all is well with the infamous foot. Chris Hernandez scored a career-high 22 points, leading Stanford to a 72-59 victory over the host UC Irvine Anteaters at the Bren Event Center. In a game eerily similar to Saturday's contest against the Hornets, the Cardinal raced to a big halftime lead, only to struggle to put away the pesky Eaters.

Just like basketball fans in Corvallis have nightmares of Julius Barnes raining down three's on their beloved Beavers, the Irvine faithful are now stuck with visions of Hernandez tickling the twine from anywhere and everywhere. Chris knocked down 6-of-7 treys (the rest of the Cardinal combined for just a trio of three-pointers), scoring 16 points in the first half as Stanford took a commanding 48-25 lead into the locker room. Cardinal fans will also be very pleased with Hernandez's five assists and no turnovers. The game started with a bang as Rob Little (six points, five rebounds) continued to show off his newfound hops by slamming home a Nick Robinson (five points, two rebounds) miss. The Eaters looked totally lost at the start, turning the ball over their first three possessions, forcing head coach Pat Douglass to burn a timeout just 1:30 into the game, down 7-0.

Stanford, minus Josh Childress again, looked to bury the Eaters, going on a 24-5 run to open the game, highlighted by a sweet Hernandez drive and dish to Little for another dunk. But Little and fellow big man Justin Davis picked up a couple of early fouls and UCI took advantage of their absence as the Eaters scratched their way back into the game with a 9-2 run. Despite Stanford struggling to score for a short stretch in the middle of the first half, Irvine was not able to cut the deficit to single digits against Cardinal coach Mike Montgomery's new favorite defense:  the zone. Stanford's guards did an excellent job collapsing on Irvine center Adam Parada, who led UCI with 12 points, whenever the ball went down low. That left a few too many open looks for Irvine sharpshooters Jeff Gloger and Ross Schraeder. But the (not-so) dynamic duo couldn't convert their outside shots, combing for just 11 points on 4-of-15 shooting.

After Stanford's brief offensive hiccup, Montgomery inserted freshman phenom Fred Washington (nine points, three steals), and boy did he provide a spark. Washington scored seven points in just over three minutes of first half action, including a big three-point bucket from the wing to restore Stanford's double-digit lead after Irvine had snuck within eight. The Cardinal responded by clamping down on defense and looking for early offense.

Matt Lottich's (11 points, four assists) steal and outlet pass to Davis for a breakaway jam and a Hernandez pull-up trey were two highlights of a furious finish to the first half that left Stanford with its biggest lead of the game at 48-25. With the Eaters' dance team showing more moves than their hardcourt mates, Stanford fans should have been able to rest easy as their beloved Cardinal cruised to victory.

Unfortunately, the second half was as painful to watch as the first 20 minutes was fun. Somebody must have slipped some plexiglass over the Stanford basket at halftime because the Card's shooting after the break was abysmal. The the good guys struggled mightily with Hernandez on the bench and Jason Haas leading the offense. Like Saturday against the Hornets, Haas looked very tentative, particularly since Irvine did not try to pressure our points very much. Despite our struggles on offense, the Eaters could only get within 15 (until they nailed a couple of threes in the last minute) and Lottich effectively put them away with a three with 1:50 to go, putting Stanford up 69-51. Don't be fooled by the final score, this game was never in doubt. Only two Cardinal starters played more than 20 minutes, and only Davis was in foul trouble.

Game notes

  • The 22 for Hernandez were a career-high, and just the third time in his young Stanford career that he reached double figures.  His last such game came February 23, 2002 against UCLA, when the freshman knocked down 14 points in the home game.
  • While Justin Davis clearly still needs to stop picking up so many fouls, the refs tonight were awful, especially in the first half when they called 25 fouls. We must have had at least seven or eight fouls on the offensive end.
  • Joe Kirchofer had a pretty nice game tonight, handling the ball well and going perfect from the the field and the charity stripe.
  • Irvine briefly went to a zone for a few possessions late in the first half and caught Hernandez by surprise. But Chris adjusted beautifully and picked it apart the next few times down until they went back to man defense.
  • This was the first time since 1996 that Irvine hosted a Top 25 team and the sellout crowd of 5,000 was really behind the team early. Their student section was a sea of yellow (they handed out shirts at the game) and looked bigger than our own 6th Man Club.
  • It was bad enough having to listen to Cal's stupid fight song on Saturday, but I was forced to hear it again tonight. Note to the Eaters, playing it faster doesn't make it a different song. This is my plea for the UC schools to write their own damn songs!
  • By my untrained eye, I thought we played zone for at least one third of the game.
  • Parada showed a nice fadeaway from the baseline, but really didn't or couldn't take it toward the hoop against our big guys. Watch for Mike Efevberha to get more playing time for the Eaters. He didn't start, but looks like their best athlete by far.
  • Odd Stanford Tree sighting at the Bren tonight:  UCI's band leader wore a replica costume complete with eyes and smiley face.

Complete box score

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