When Ben Howland saw UCLA's 19-17 lead slip away on a Bruin turnover that keyed four quick Cardinal points, he called a timeout to regroup his troops. Maybe he should have left well enough alone.
When play resumed, Stanford kicked it up another notch and extended their two-point lead to 19 over the last eight minutes of the half. The Bruins managed only two field goals over the last 9:30 of the half, while Stanford enjoyed a 25-4 run during that same stretch. The top-ranked Cardinal had also shredded their Westwood opponents in the first 20 minutes of their meeting four weeks earlier at Maples Pavilion, so perhaps the lopsided run was not completely surprising. What had to confound Howland and his bench braintrust was how the Cardinal hammered his Bruins.
UCLA placed an emphasis throughout the game on denying the ball and open shots on the wing, which has been a common strategy for opponents to limit the dangerous Matt Lottich-Chris Hernandez backcourt. Anybody who saw film, or read a report, on Thursday's explosion at the Sports Arena also understood the importance of limiting Josh Childress. With a pair of seven-footers in his frontcourt, Howland seemed content to stretch his perimeter defense and let his big men deal with Rob Little and Nick Robinson one-on-one underneath.
Bad idea, Ben.
It had indeed been Childress and Lottich who had hit three-pointers early in the first half of this game and opened a 8-5 game into a 14-5 Stanford advantage, but it was the overlooked Robinson who hurt Howland the most in that 25-point offensive surge. Nominally the least threatening of Stanford's starters, with the fewest points per game and per 40 minutes, Robinson is not a guy high on an opposing coach's scouting hit list. But the athletic and resourceful redshirt junior ripped off nine of Stanford's first 17 points in that offensive onslaught.
It started innocently enough, with Nick Robinson grabbing a loose ball on the defensive end off a Ryan Hollins unforced turnover. The UCLA big man undercut Robinson as he fell forward off-balance, and that sent the Stanford forward to the free throw line in the bonus. He hit both free throws, which was nice to see after Stanford had missed three of its last four attempts from the charity stripe, but the points were more important in what they set up. The makes allowed Stanford to set up their 1-1-3 zone defense, which completely confounded UCLA for the majority of the game. On the very next possession, the Bruins could not find an opening and had the ball poked away by a reaching Lottich on an attempted interior pass. Chris Hernandez went streaking the other way and finished in transition with an acrobatic lay-in with Michael Fey literally hanging over him.
That was when Howland called the timeout, seeing his team's lead lost and a 21-19 Cardinal advantage. Stanford would hold the lead the remaining 28 minutes of the game, and they padded it immediately out of the timeout when Robinson hit a trail post three-pointer off the UCLA miss. Next possession saw Rob Little hit an eight-foot jump hook over Fey. Stanford's 7-0 run ended when Bruin freshman Trevor Ariza took the rare UCLA initiative to drive through the Cardinal's zone, but the score delayed rather than ended the Stanford surge.
The Bruins would score once more in the half, on a low-percentage jumper from Michael Fey, but Stanford's scoring machine was in high gear. They continued with the hot hand and scored on 10 straight possessions - including 7-of-8 shooting. The final two baskets of that perfect possession streak were daggers to the home Bruin boys, as Matt Lottich drained a 24-foot three-pointer and then Josh Childress hit a tough 18-foot pull-up jumper. Score after score buried UCLA, but just as important was how they allowed Stanford to stay in their zone each defensive stance. The Bruins could manage just one three-point make in each half in this game, despite their numerous opportunities against Stanford's unwavering zone.
The Card held a 39-23 lead that grew to 42-23 with a Childress free throw and buzzer-beating Little lay-in, and a stunned Pauley Pavilion crowd was left numb at the half. The new regime under Ben Howland was supposed to end these Lavinesque beat-downs, but for the second time this season, UCLA found themselves waist-deep in a woodshed job at the intermission against their NorCal rival. Though the pieces are not yet in place for the offense that Howland likes to run, his reputed lockdown defense was flailing against the white-hot Cardinal. Stanford shot 61% in the first half, including a sizzling 4-of-5 from downtown. Robinson and Little were leading the way with 13 and 10 points, respectively, against the grain of the UCLA defensive perimeter gamble.
But Stanford's 19-point lead was quickly slashed to nine as the bounce-back Bruins opened up the second half with a surprising 10-0 run. The Card missed their four attempts in the first four-plus minutes of the half, but more costly were their turnovers. Four Stanford fumbles led to four of UCLA's five opening scores. Not surprisingly, UCLA was finding newfound success when their looks came in transition and against Stanford's man defense. The Card could not get into their zone defense without offensive makes, and their first basket did not come until the fifth minute of the half. Even then, the revitalized Bruins added two more scores to cut the lead to seven at 44-37.
But the Card steadied as Rob Little asserted himself on offense. He scored all of Stanford's first six points in the half, with the first two buckets coming on soft turnaround jumpers. The third basket was every bit as beautiful, with Lottich hitting him on a lob pass under the basket, which the Stanford center converted on a reverse lay-up.
UCLA answered with Cedric Bozeman driving the lane off a screen against Stanford's man defense, bringing the margin back to nine. Robinson scored his only field goal of the half when he found space in the lane and layed the ball off the glass, but a pair of Jon Crispin free throws again brought the game to single digits. Mike Montgomery put the hard-working Little on the bench at the 12-minute mark to give him some needed rest, inserting Joe Kirchofer into the lineup. It was then that Stanford opened up their long-range assault.
Childress spanked a three-pointer, the first of the half for the Cardinal, and that gave Stanford a 12-point lead at 53-41. The Card never again led by less than double digits. The next score for the #1 ranked visitors was a 14-foot baseline jumper by Joe Kirchofer, which was followed by the first of several second half downtown daggers. Matt Lottich came around a screen on the top of the key on an inbounds play and drained a tough catch-and-shoot trey in the corner. The very next possession, Lottich exploded from the low block to the top of the arc for another catch-and-release three-pointer, which also went down. Both shots came despite solid UCLA defenses, and they crushed every last ounce of hope for the home team.
To top off the torrential shooting, Chris Hernandez brought the ball up the floor the next possession and shot a trey of his own from the top of the circle behind a little Little screen. All of a sudden, the lead was up to 18 points. Stanford had hit four straight three-pointers in that five-basket run that put the game on ice. The undefeated Card led 64-46 and scored only free throws the final six-plus minutes of the game in the 73-60 victory.
- The Card had already clinched at least a share of the conference crown on Thursday, but today's win gives them a guaranteed sole possession of the Pac-10 title this season. It is the fourth conference championship for Stanford in the last six years, and this is the earliest for a clinching in any of those years.
- Stanford shot 8-of-10 from behind the arc, and that .800 clip is the best in the Card's 23 games this season. Stanford has made more three-pointers, with nine twice this year, but those games featured 16 and 21 attempts behind the line.
- Rob Little scored a season-high 18 points, which also ties his career best he scored early last year in the Florida game. The starting center could have broken out for a new career high but missed the front end of a one-and-one in the final minute of the contest. The Stanford junior hit 7-of-9 shooting, with his only two misses ironically coming right at the hoop. He had an uncontested lay-in/dunk that he pushed across the rim in the first half, and then early in the second half he had an offensive rebound tip-back that missed. Little has now shot 66% or better in four of his five February games, scoring 16 or more in each. He also grabbed a game-high seven boards in this game.
- Nick Robinson logged a new career high with his 15 points, eclipsing the 13 points he has scored twice this season and once last year. The combo forward also snared six rebounds.
- The Stanford scoring was balanced, with four players in double digits, but the load was carried almost entirely by the five starters. The Cardinal benched mustered just five points in the game and just five field goal attempts. Kirchofer had four of those points on 2-of-3 shooting.
- UCLA was stymied in their upset bid against the top-ranked Cardinal. The Bruins have upset #1 teams in each of the previous four years but came up 13 points short today. The season is not yet done, but that incredible streak looks unlikely to continue, unless the two teams face off again in the Pac-10 tournament.
- Stanford extends their winning ways at Pauley Pavilion with this victory and now have an incredible seven straight wins in Westwood.
- Mike Montgomery made a "SoCal substitution" with 18.1 seconds to go in the game and his team up 12 points. Fred Washington, Evan Moore and Mark Bradford all were sent into the game in front of hometown friends and family. Moore grabbed a defensive rebound in his fleeting moments on the hardwood.
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