Stanford fans are coming into today's game against the Oregon Ducks with a lot of things on their collective mind. At 4pm this afternoon, a packed house will say their good-byes to the current incarnation of Maples Pavilion, which will start its renovation on Monday morning. A teary-eyed crowd will bid farewell to three courageous and beloved seniors in their final home game of their Stanford careers. A basketball game will be played somewhere between the whistles, as the #1 ranked and undefeated Cardinal look to take another step closer to the first ever unbeaten conference season in Pac-10 history, as well as the first undefeated regular season for any team in college basketball since UNLV in 1990-91.
Mike Montgomery has never lost to Oregon at Maples Pavilion, with a perfect 17-0 mark in his Cardinal coaching career. The last time Stanford dropped at home against the Ducks was ironically the final year of Dr. Tom Davis in 1986-87, when he meandered out the door and muttered over his shoulder that you just couldn't win at Stanford.
This year's edition of the water fowl is certainly not their best. Arguably Oregon brought better threats to Maples back in the Kenya Wilkins days, or even the surge a couple years ago under Freddie Jones. This year's team has been without their spectacular freshman point guard for a large stretch of the season, and their uneven play has included a 3-5 road record in conference action. So Stanford fans may not be crazy to have their focus set on these fond farewells. This game looks like a lock, right?
Not so fast.
No team has beaten Stanford down as badly as Oregon this year, with the 19-point deficit suffered in the second half in Eugene four weeks ago today the largest Stanford has faced all year. The Ducks are probably the best offensive team in the Pac-10, and love to push the ball and tempo in their games. With a team three-point percentage north of 40% and three of the top five outside shooters in the conference, they are a dangerous team that can score big points in a big hurry.
You know all about Luke Jackson by now, the senior All-American candidate was silent in the first half of that game in Eugene but exploded in the second stanza with three-pointers and slashes to the hoop. He put up 25 points, one of 13 times this year that he has cleared 20 points in a game. Last week he went for 42 against Arizona, and he reeled off 39 against Oregon State in January. Interestingly, both games were L's for the Ducks. When he is on, he gets his rhythm from his outside shot, where he is hitting at a fantastic 47% clip this year. But he is the team's go-to scorer in driving the lane and creating when the rest of his teammates are standing still.
The polar opposite of that mentality comes from James Davis, who Cardinalmaniacs™ remember from his scorching three-point shooting in the January 31 meeting. He hit shot after shoot, from several feet behind the arc, and was the instrument who most built the big lead for Oregon that afternoon. The 5'10" senior guard is a 43% shooter from beyond the arc, but that is the only thing he knows how to do. Davis has taken 83% of his field goal attempts this year from three-point range, and as evidence that he does not dribble-penetrate, look no further than his nine total free throw attempts in 21 games this year. In a typical performance, he took all six of his shots Thursday night at Cal from three-point range, with no free throw attempts. He is a zone-buster and very compelling reason to play tight man defense against the Ducks. Davis is not currently a starter, which means his conscience-free firing mentality is an element you have to handle off the bench.
Andre Joseph is the shooting guard who does start for the Ducks, and a full half of his shots come outside the circle, where he hits 46%. But the most notable man to watch in the Oregon backcourt is freshman point guard Aaron Brooks. He was lost for most of the Pac-10 season with a broken bone in his wrist suffered January 4 at UCLA, but he has returned to action and played the last three games. He logged modest minutes, 12 and 18, in the Arizona games last week, though a momentous step forward for the frosh came Thursday night when he was reinserted to the starting lineup and played 34 big minutes. He scored 16 points, including 4-of-6 shooting from three-point land. Like his avian teammates, Brooks is not afraid to put the ball up from outside, with more than half his attempts in this limited season coming from beyond the arc. His three-point percentage is currently 38% and rising.
But Brooks brings much more to the table than perimeter shooting. He has the handle and explosive quicks that can takeover a game, even as a freshman. And unlike most of his web-footed compadres, Brooks will take defenders off the dribble just as easily as he can pull up. Chris Hernandez has his hands full this afternoon, for sure. And I am thinking that a Stanford fanbase who has seen very little of Aaron Brooks at Oregon are about to be very impressed.
The inside game for the Ducks is very underrated, given how much attention is given to their sharpshooting guards and wings. 6'11" sophomore Ian Crosswhite has scored in double figures in 19 of his 22 games this year, and the lefty can face the basket with a soft shooting touch out out to 16 feet. He has taken about one three-pointer per game, but the Aussie has hit just four all year. He is efficient around the basket, but gets his best looks when defenses play out on the perimeter in reaction to the Duck shooters. If you leave him enough space, he can hurt you.
More impressive to me is 6'10" freshman Mitch Platt, who was just fantastic against Stanford four weeks ago. His array of nifty post moves with his back to the basket were devastating, and he showed a sweet jump hook that converted like clockwork. He can go to either hand, and he has the body (270 pounds) to bang with anyone on Stanford's roster in the paint. The Las Vegas native has scored in double figures in six of his last 10 games, and he ripped down a career-high 10 boards against Stanford. If he plays as well today as he did in Eugene when these two teams last met, Oregon should provide another very threatening 40-minute battle...
Much attention has been paid to the renovation of Maples Pavilion that will get underway once the weekend is over, but few fans have asked the question about what this #1 ranked Cardinal Basketball team will do the remainder of the regular season and tournament time. While home games will be complete, the squad will be deprived of their practice floor and locker room. As soon as this afternoon's game is completed, movers are ready with boxes to pack up the locker of every player on this team and have it moved before Monday's next practice. The team will conduct their remaining workouts this year in the Ford Center and Burnham Pavilion, but there is no locker space available there. Trailers will be employed in a best-effort imitation of the lockers that players have been using, though nobody knows how (in)convenient the setup will be.
As for the practice floor, this Stanford team is no stranger to the Ford Center. Several times this fall they used that court for practices when Maples was in use for volleyball or women's hoops contests. But those practices were conducted once every week or two. The setting will now be everyday, and as such the team will need to be clear of the distractions that exist in that building. If you have not been there in recent years, one entire wall of the gym is glass, with an array of exercise equipment on just the other side. To help the team retain an isolated environment and focus, butcher paper will be posted over the glass to block out all visual distractions.
The small confines of Ford also dictate the practices will be closed the remainder of the season. If you did not get a chance to watch this inspiring team practice this season, then your chance has passed you by.
It is not yet known how media interviews will be conducted in the new Ford-trailers setup. That has this basketball writer just a little nervous for the next few weeks of critical Cardinal coverage...
Have you noticed the monster minutes played by Stanford junior forward Josh Childress of late? It started up at Oregon four weeks ago when he logged 37 minutes. The next Saturday in the home thriller against Arizona, he played 39. At Cal, USC and UCLA he played 35, 40 and 35 minutes, respectively. The only two games in the last five weeks where he has played less than 30 minutes were the blowout wins at home against Arizona State (28) and Oregon State (25). Even in Thursday's lopsided lashing handed to the Beavers, he was the last starter to substitute out of the game, with 8:32 to go in the first half.
It would seem no coincidence that the player who sat out the first nine games of the year has the freshest legs to go these minutes. And with 13 straight games of double-digit scoring, who is to argue?
"It's possible that Josh's legs are just now getting to where he would have been," postulates Mike Montgomery. And the 40-minute masterpiece last week at USC was very encouraging. "That's the best he's been, and I think it has something to do with his legs."
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