Defense Fills Gaps In Corvallis

Stanford has been up and down throughout the year (and within games) on offense, but the one constant seen in nearly every contest for the undefeated Cardinal has been defense. That theme played out in an extreme fashion Thursday night as the #2 ranked Card put forth one of their most inspired defensive performances of the year, with 13 steals and 13 blocks. With the ice cold shooting on offense, that was sorely needed in the 62-48 lead.

It is a scene Stanford fans have seen with too much regularity the last few weeks, but the Cardinal came out of the gates cold and clumsy on offense to start this game against Oregon State. The #2 team in the country managed just eight points by the second media timeout, and just 10 points come the third media timeout. Stanford in fact spent all but a few seconds of this game shooting below 40% from the field, and three-pointers were as rare as a Corvallis Chinese New Year parade.

In the opening minutes, Stanford fumbled the ball and made poor decisions with an apparent overabundance of energy and excitement. On the first possession Chris Hernandez took the ball down the floor after Rob Little won the opening tip-off, and the fiery Cardinal point guard saw a seam in the defense. He drove toward the basket from the left side but lost the handle and bobbled the ball out of bounds in an unforced turnover. A couple possessions later, Matt Lottich would try to make an entry lob pass from the perimeter, but had it swatted from a few feet away to give OSU a fast break. Lottich also whiffed on an off-balance three-pointer, followed by a Josh Childress trey attempt that missed as his body carried him backward. Something about the road environment and internal expectations had this team rushing their offense, and most possessions ended with bad misses or turnovers.

The only two successful possessions in the opening four minutes came when Stanford managed to get the ball into the low post. Hernandez lobbed a pass over the defense to Little, who was being fronted defensively, which gave the 6'9" center an easy finish at the basket. Justin Davis also caught an inlet pass in the low post, which was followed by a miss at close range. But the athletic and aggressive senior grabbed the offensive board and put it back in after a little head and shoulder fake.

To these eyes, the low post defense was very beatable, but too many possessions were wasted with poor decisions and execution by Stanford's perimeter players. OSU head coach Jay John appeared to agree because he put his team into a zone defense as the squads broke from the first media timeout. The zone would prove to be an excellent defense to use against Stanford on this evening, but on that first possession, Lottich made a nice pass through the zone to find Little in the middle of the key. The big guy put up an eight-foot jumper that went down for Stanford fifth and sixth points.

On the other end of the floor, the Beavers were no better on offense. Stanford was mostly playing man defense because Mike Montgomery does not implement the zone off missed baskets, but the home team had similar struggles on offense getting the ball into scoring positions. In a frightfully low scoring game like this, though, all Oregon State needed was a player or two to get hot. That player was 6'2" wing Chris Stephens, who was a singular savior. He hit a pair of early three-pointers from very deep - a good four to five feet behind the arc. The second of those bombs lifted OSU to a 12-6 lead around the 13-minute mark.

The Stanford offense was horrificly anemic, and I do think "horrific" is an apt descriptor. Mike Montgomery was fed up with his starters and by the 12:30 mark had substituted at every position on the floor. Five bench players were on the court: Jason Haas, Dan Grunfeld, Nick Robinson, Matt Haryasz and Joe Kirchofer. For a brief moment, the reserves gave a spark as Dan Grunfeld drove through the zone defense from the top of the key and put in a 10-foot jumper off the glass.

The score stood at 14-8 in favor of the Corvallis kids, and Montgomery gave Chris Hernandez a chance to regain control. Before being yanked, the starting point guard had made a turnover on a bad bounce pass low to Little, followed by long airball three-point attempt. Returning to the floor at the 10-minute mark, Hernandez was hopefully ready to right the sinking offensive ship, but he instead picked up a very quick foul - his second of the half. Montgomery left him on the floor another minute, apparently buying a little time to give Haas a meaningful breather, but then the switch was made to put Haas in for the remainder of the half.

He did find Rob Little for a score down low to close the game to 14-10 before the third (eight-minute) media timeout, but Stanford was shooting just 5-of-18 in the game. The Card were 0-for-7 from outside. The only thing keeping Stanford in the game was their defense. Oregon State was constantly stymied in their attempts to get the ball down low, partially their failing and partially Stanford's doing. The Beavers' big men could not effectively seal of Stanford defenders to give good targets, and the OSU guards made too many high-risk passes into the paint. But also credit the Cardinal defense, who played with as much intensity on that end of the floor as their offense showed ineptitude on the other end.

Indeed, at that third media timeout, Stanford had almost as many steals (four) as field goals (five). Coming out of the break, Matt Lottich fired up an airball three-point attempt, and then on the other end, Chris Stephens tagged yet another trey for the Beavers, this time from "normal" range at the top of the arc. Oregon State led 17-10, and Stephens was 3-of-3 from downtown versus Stanford's 0-of-8.

The Cardinal picked themselves up by the bootstraps, though, and raced out on a much needed 10-2 run. Matt Lottich was epileptic scoring the ball, but he was key in the turnaround with his passing. Against the OSU zone he first found Just Davis on the low block, which was quickly converted for a basket. 17-12. A Stanford stop on the other end (OSU turnover) gave Jason Haas the ball on the break, and he found Josh Childress with a bounce pass slashing toward the basket. Childress finished with a leaping lay-in off the glass, and the game was at 17-14. Lottich had the ball in his hands the next possession and drove into the heart of the zone, the dished to Nick Robinson for a lay-up. 17-16.

Oregon State was fouled on the other end when Justin Davis made a foolish and unnecessary foul away from the basket, and they added a pair of free throws to push their lead back out to 19-16. Davis redeemed himself in resounding fashion, though. Lottich missed a midrange jumper that came off the back iron, which Davis found as he raced toward the hole. He leapt in the air from a few feet out, grabbed the offensive board and then threw it down. 19-18. Stanford went back to Davis right away, throwing him an alley-oop attempt, but he could not get the ball over the rim. He went right back up and snagged the offensive rebound and then found himself trapped by three defenders. He gave a little fake and went up to score off the glass, giving Stanford their first lead since 2-0 early in the game.

The 19-20 score was quickly reversed by an Oregon State basket on the low block, but then Stanford returned to their offensive surge. With only eight misses to show for their three-point shooting, Stanford's perimeter scorers were an achilles heel in the game, but Josh Childress ended the drought with a trey. He popped a shot from outside the arc with 3:20 to go in the half on an inside-outside passing play from Justin Davis. Childress showed his longrange laser was no fluke, hitting another shot the next possession with his foot on the line. Suddenly Stanford was up 25-21.

Oregon State started to pressure Childress a little more on the perimeter, so he answered by taking his defender off the dribble. The explosive junior was hacked as he drove toward the basket, and he added two more points from the charity stripe. The game was 27-21, as the Card rode a 17-4 run.

On defense, Stanford was able to play more possessions in their zone defense now that they were making baskets. That frustrated Oregon State's offense even more, as their struggles continued. They occasionally did get the ball down low, but Stanford's roaming post defenders were quick off the floor to block a surprising number of attempts inside three feet.

The halftime score was 29-23 in Stanford's favor, with Childress leading the way at nine points. Justin Davis and Rob Little added eight and six, and it was clear the frontcourt had to carry the scoring load with Hernandez and Lottich struggling. Understanding that, you could not have asked for worse news than what Stanford received in the second minute of the second half. Davis was chasing a loose ball under the basket off a Lottich miss, and he turned his knee while tangling with an OSU defender. The ball rolled out of bounds, and Davis was rolling on the floor in pain. He had injured his left knee and had to be helped off the floor. The rebounding machine and offensive weapon never returned to the game, and that could not be good for Stanford in this game.

Oregon State went on an 8-0 run as Stanford reeled, with the two big plays being a pair of treys from Chris Stephens. He was now 5-of-5 in the game from outside, and his second bomb gave OSU back the lead at 31-29.

With no Davis down low, where would Stanford go for answers? Matt Lottich was still missing shots in the second half, and the undefeated Cardinal looked cooked. Then Childress stepped up once again from the perimeter with an open three-pointer that silenced a loud and excited home crowd. Stanford held a narrow lead at 32-31, which was extended to three points when a Hernandez drive and dish to Matt Haryasz ended in a thundering dunk.

As Oregon State called a timeout, some very surprising stats merited contemplation. OSU was 5-of-5 from outside while Stanford was 2-of-13. Oregon State had double-digit free throws while Stanford had only four. The mighty redwoods of Stanford were even being bested in the rebounding column, where they had never been beaten in 16 games. But the Cardinal had eight steals and seven blocks, which kept Oregon State in check on the defensive end. That was the theme of this entire game, in fact. Stanford never oiled the offensive machine, but they completely controlled the game on defense.

The best sign for Stanford, though, might have come out of the first timeout as Chris Stephens missed his first three-point attempt of the game at the 15:10 mark. Childress hit a trey on the other end to lengthen the lead at 37-31, and the Card would control the rest of the contest. Matt Haryasz was the star for the final 15 minutes, as he made play after play on both ends of the court. Rob Little made a nifty move for a reverse lay-up in traffic that just came off the rim, but Haryasz punched the ball up in the air and sent it through the net. He followed that the next trip with a soft turnaround midrange jumper.

Oregon State made a couple baskets and free throws to pull back to six points, 43-37, but then an unlikely man delivered a dagger to the home crowd. Dan Grunfeld knocked down an absolutely picture-perfect trey, with his pure form we have come to love but have not seen of late, stretching the lead to nine points. Classmate Matt Haryasz moved the margin to double digits with a leaping offensive rebound a little later, and his putback made the score 48-37. The game oscillated between 10 and 16 points the rest of the way, and a chunk of Stanford's late scoring came on free throws. Oregon State never could make a run, and the Card hit eight of their last nine free throw attempts to protect the game in the final two minutes, and they scored 10 of their final 12 points at the charity stripe.

The final tally stood at 62-48. While Stanford shot a nauseating 22% from outside (4-of-18) and 39% overall, they held the Beavers to just 34%. The most shocking statistic would be the mere 15 field goals that OSU scored... versus the 13 shots blocked by Stanford. Take a moment for that stat to sink in. Incredible.

The baker's dozen blocks were a school record, ahead of two games in the 1999-2000 season when Stanford swatted 12 attempts. Haryasz rejected six shots, and Childress blasted five. Both players recorded career highs in that statistic, with Haryasz tying the Stanford single-game record (Curtis Borchardt blocked six shots three times). The Card also recorded 13 steals, with Chris Hernandez leading the way with four. That too was a career high.

In the big picture view, Stanford struggled on offense but controlled the game with truly stifling defense. This is not the first time we have seen that this year, and chances are it will be seen again.

But of immediate concern, Cardinalmaniacs want to know the health status of senior starting power forward Justin Davis. His left knee was in a lot of pain at the time of the injury, but he actually returned to the bench fitted with a sleeve that was clearly intended to let him play if needed in the game. Had he torn something badly of great concern, we would have expected him to put that knee on ice. Instead, he laced up his shoes and looked as if he could still play. The injury can best be described as day-to-day at this point, and his status is uncertain for Saturday's game in Eugene.

Should Matt Haryasz instead be needed to start, there is still reason for optimism at the power forward position. The lanky sophomore recorded 10 points, six blocks and seven rebounds (four on offense) off the bench. He shot 5-of-7 in the game and played under great control on both ends of the floor in a game where chaos seemingly ruled. Josh Childress led all Stanford scorers with 17 points. He did not shoot well near the basket but he did hit 3-of-6 from deep.

Complete game box score


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