What do you expect when your Stanford starting frontcourt finishes a game away from home against the #1 team in the country with nine points on 3-for-12 shooting, with eight turnovers and six fouls... and without Josh Childress? Probably not an historic victory against an elite Kansas team, but Mike Montgomery's squad did just that today in the 10th Anniversary Wooden Classic in Anaheim, CA. The Cardinal outlasted a game Jayhawk squad by a 64-58 tally on the shoulders of several clutches plays and gutty performances. At the forefront were Matt Lottich (game-high 18 points including 5-for-10 three-point shooting), Chris Hernandez (11-for-11 free throw shooting), Nick Robinson (eight rebounds, seven points and immeasurable hustle) and Joe Kirchofer (10 big points on 4-for-4 shooting, all in the first half).
"The kids are obviously excited and pleased, as well they should be," says Montgomery in the glow of the victory. "This was a good win for us. It gives us a lot of confidence early in the season."
The Card enjoyed some confidence right off the bat in this battle, with Lottich nailing a three-pointer on Stanford's first shot of the game while being fouled. A rare four-point play set the tone for the first half, where Stanford led the entire way and enjoyed leads as large as 12 points. Nick Robinson delivered a pair of unexpected blows as he sank his first two shots of the game, both 16-foot baseline jumpers in the opening minutes. The redshirt junior scored little the rest of the way, but he was crashing the boards and racing to loose balls that gave Stanford possessions and second-chance opportunities they badly needed on a poor shooting afternoon.
Stanford was largely in control of the game through the first period until a meltdown in the final two minutes allowed the #1 Jayhawks to shrink a nine-point advantage to just three. Kansas held the ball for a final shot but turned it over on a moving screen with 3.8 seconds left in the half. Montgomery took a timeout and then had Robinson inbound the ball to Hernandez, who turned and raced toward the top of the NBA three-point line and a desparation shot before the buzzer. Fortunately for Stanford, Kansas sophomore Jeff Hawkins hit Hernandez as he went up for the heave, handing the redshirt sophomore three free throws. Hernandez hit all three and extended his team's lead to a more confortable seven-point margin going into the locker room.
The Card held their lead for the first 31 1/2 minutes of the game until a basket (plus one) by Keith Langford on a transition lay-in gave Kansas their first advantage, 45-46. The strong Kansas contingent in the house were inspired to their highest energy level of the afternoon, and all manners of momentum appeared to have swung into their favor. But 20 seconds later Lottich canned the biggest three-pointer of the game and ended the one lead Kansas would enjoy all game. That shot started a 7-0 run for Stanford that included an equally incredible play by sophomore Matt Haryasz.
Rob Little drew a foul by Kansas' David Padgett and went to the free throw line for a one-and-one opportunity but missed the first shot off the back iron. Haryasz leapt for a fantastic offensive rebound, and then as quickly as he caught it he sprung back off the floor toward the basket and put the ball off the glass for a score.
The #1 Jayhawks would respond with a 6-0 run of their own to tie the game, but Stanford used a wealth of free throw opportunities plus another Lottich trey to pull away in the final two and a half minutes. The two teams spent much of the end of the game at the charity stripe, where they scored 12 of the 15 points that spanned the final five-plus minutes of regulation (ignoring a meaningless KU trey before the buzzer).
Though Stanford put together many memorable offensive scores, it was their frequent use of the zone defense that stymied Kansas and ultimately won this ballgame. Kansas came into the game shooting just 31.7% from outside the arc, and Montgomery was happy to encourage them to take a plenty of attempts from that range.
"I didn't think we would go to the zone this much," he admits. "But when it works, you stick with it until they beat it."
"We thought they were more of a mid-range team than outside," the Cardinal hoops icon elaborates. "We knew they wanted to pound it in the post and work the high-low game. We were willing to let them shoot three's and would rather try to stop their guard penetration. It was also crucial to defend their transition. Aaron Miles is a kind who won't stop until you make him."
True to Montgomery's intent, Kansas managed just five points all game in transition, despite a wealth of opportunities to run off Stanford's 17 turnovers as well as the Jayhawks' 27 defensive boards. More importantly Kansas attempted 20 of their 49 field goals from beyond the arc, and they made just three of them.
"We shot just 2-of-19 for the game," Self laments. "At least, when the game counted. We hit one at the end that didn't really matter for us."
Though Kansas fans might beat up their team and coach for playing a putatively poor game, Stanford planned and prepared very deliberately for this outcome. Observers had particularly noted the seriousness and composure of the team in the last 24 hours during their travel and on-site practice.
"We had good practices last week, and that was important for us," Montgomery declares. "We knew Kansas was a physical team and we would have to play tough."
"We had great preparation," adds senior Matt Lottich. "We had a great grasp of their offense and players. A lot of credit goes to the coaching staff for getting us ready for this game."
If you listen to forward phenom Wayne Simien of the Jayhawks, he concurs with Lottich's assessment. "We got out of our offensive scheme, from the things we work on every day," he notes on the Stanford defense.
Teammate Keith Langford elaborates: "We didn't shoot well and relied too much on one-pass-and-shoot offense. The zone is deceptive in that it makes you think you're open when you're not. We shot a lot of three's and [Stanford] challenged them well."
You could also commend the #1 Jayhawks for their defensive efforts against the #17 Card, who shot just 32.7% from the field. While both head coaches were positive on the defensive efforts and intensity, both Self and Montgomery shook their heads at the combined 38 turnovers. Teams all over the country have been suffering through spells of bad play in this young season, and though a tremendous battle, this game showed two visibly tight teams.
"I don't know Bill [Self] well enough to know what he thought of his guys, but we got tentative for sure," Mike Montgomery notes. "They were running right at us, and we took some bad shots. We made turnovers we shouldn't have made. But for a game early in the season, you saw both teams playing hard and doing what they could defensively."
It was not a perfectly played game, and it does not inspire as grand of visions as other top-flight wins have in recent years. But this game ultimately goes in the books, and throughout the nation's conscience, as a win over the #1 team in the country. Ranked lower in the polls and tabbed by Vegas as a five-point underdog, the game will surprise plenty tonight on SportsCenter, but a very complimentary Bill Self considered the Stanford win otherwise.
"This isn't an upset today," the Kansas first-year coach declares. "Obviously Stanford was the better team today. They defended us well, very smart. The made us play to some weaknesses... Mike [Montgomery] won't want me to say this, but with what people have told me and what I've seen on tape, early in the season this is definitely a Top 10 team. They have three wins away from home already, and that Rice game was a pretty good win, despite what people say."
- This was just the second all-time win for Stanford over Kansas and the first of the Montgomery era. The Jayhawks had hammered the Cardinal coach by a total of 41 points in their two meetings (Dec. 1989, Mar. 2002). Kansas still holds a demonstrative 8-2 all-time advantage over Stanford...
- Would you believe that Kansas' 36.7% shooting from the field was the best effort of the four teams playing today in the 10th Anniversary Wooden Classic? The Wizard of Westwood certainly was not honored by a combined 32.4% shooting across the quartet of participants. Sorry for the stinker, John. Maybe the organizers should consider a change of venue next year; the Pond was quite inhospitable this day...
- The Cardinal are now 3-0 in the Wooden Classic. Previous wins came in 1997 over Georgia and 1999 over Auburn. Though when the host producers of this year's event showed lengthy highlight reels from the previous nine editions of the preseason event, they put forth just one brief clip of Stanford: a Mark Madsen play. There were probably 20 combined clips of UCLA and Duke, including multiple bits highlighting Jelani "Too Tall Toker" McCoy. How ridiculous...
- The win over #1 Kansas marks the fourth victory for Stanford over a top-ranked opponent, and the third in their last four tries. All the wins have been tight, with this six-point victory in Anaheim the second largest margin of the four. Stanford first knocked off a #1 team with the famed shocker in 1988 at Maples Pavilion over Arizona, 82-74. The Card knocked off the Cats again 15 years later, this time in Tucson by a 82-77 score. The other fabled take-down came in Oakland at the Pete Newell Challenge in December of 2000 when Casey Jacobsen's bank shot clipped Duke, 84-83. Incredibly, three of these four supreme victories have come away from home...
- Don't look now, but Chris Hernandez has hit double figures in three of Stanford's four games....
- Joe Kirchofer's 10 points match his career high, set two seasons ago at USC. Though in that game he used the charity stripe for six of his points. The four field goals he hit in this Kansas game, on 4-for-4 shooting, are also a career high....
- The stat line does not fully bear out how impressive freshman starting center David Padgett looked for Kansas, with seven points and four boards in 24 minutes of play. All the big men for both teams had serious foul trouble, so his four personals are no great sin. But he looked very quick laterally and vertically on both ends of the floor. For a frosh, his feel around the basket is tremendous. I had not seen Padgett in over a year, and he has measurably improved from his already lofty performances I saw in his high school and AAU games. If this is the last time Stanford faces Padgett in his career, that will be just fine...
- If you were hoping for some showdowns between Fred Washington and Omar Wilkes, with all of the recruiting subtext from a year ago... sorry. Washington did not play and Wilkes saw one meaningless garbage minute before the buzzer, with Kansas trailing nine points and giving up...
- Kudos to Matt Haryasz not just for his three blocked shots, but for the manner in which he stuffed them. There is a disturbing trend seen for several years now where young players are inclined to emphatically swat the ball away, in volleyball fashion. Those plays most often send the balls screaming out of bounds and return possession back to the offensive team, which accomplishes little. But in two of Haryasz' blocks today he not only stopped the shot but came down to the floor with it in his hands. Now that is how it should be done...
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