Up in Eugene four weeks ago, it took Stanford more than 25 minutes of play to wake up and make their run at host Oregon in that fabled 19-point second half comeback. Saturday, it took less than four minutes for the Card to shake off their game-starting slump, and this time there was no deficit to make up. Neither team could find the bottom of the net in the first 3:15 of the game and whiffed on their first combined 15 attempts from the field.. The #1 ranked Cardinal scored a single point when Nick Robinson converted one of two free throws in the fourth minute of the game, and that 1-0 lead held the remainder of the game as Stanford never trailed.
But it was not until Stanford's eighth shot of the game that they started to roll. Ball movement found Matt Lottich open in the corner for a three-pointer that lifted an edgy crowd and started a suffocating run. The Card hit their next three shots, all three-pointers, to race out to a 13-0 lead. Two of those treys came from the hot hand of Josh Childress, who has been hitting a glorious groove lately, and they were just the tip of his afro'd iceberg. He would go on to score 17 points and pull down nine rebounds - in just the first half. Those first two shots for the All-American candidate came with defenses in no position to contest them, which primed the pump for him the rest of the evening.
"The key thing for him is to be consistent from three. It sets up his driving," explains Pac-10 champion head coach Mike Montgomery. "Josh is shooting the ball better from deep lately. The ball comes out nice - good rotation. It's good to see."
"That's definitely good for me and my confidence," the Stanford superstar athlete agrees. "Getting open shots is good for me. I got two wide open shots early in the game and that set the tone."
Indded, Childress canned a career high from beyond the arc with four treys in the game. They were all wide-open shots, and each one drained se tup his unending drives to the hoop. It looked early like Stanford would need more than three-point shooting for the win when Oregon answered the 13-0 opening Stanford run with a 12-0 streak of their own. Could the Card score inside the arc, where they missed their first five attempts?
The answer of course came from Childress. A move we have seldom seen in his Stanford career, he posted up with his back to the basket from eight feet, took the ball and scored with a jump hook. If that confounded the Ducks, then his dribble drives really tweaked their beaks. Childress spent most of the game slashing through the web-footed defense and finishing with an array of spin moves and leaning lay-ins in heavy traffic.
It was mesmerizing. It was amazing. Josh Childress was scoring in just about every way he wanted, at any time he wanted. He owned the backboards. He swatted an All-American's shots.
Final line: 29 points on 10-of-16 shooting (4-of-6 three-pointers), 12 rebounds (four on offense), five assists, three blocks and no fouls.
"I've just really been trying to be aggressive and attack the basket, and open things for my teammates," Childress describes. "When I'm aggressive, it permeates. Then maybe Chris gets aggressive, then Joe."
The 6'8" jumping junior might have a future in coaching after his long playing career concludes, because he did get Chris Hernandez and Joe Kirchofer energized on the offensive end. The redshirt sophomore point guard scored double digits and hit multiple three-pointers for the second time in three days, while the fifth-year senior center broke out for career highs in both points (13) and rebounds (10).
Kirchofer had told Montgomery on Friday that he truly did not crave a starting spot on Senior Day, while nominal starting center Rob Little also told the head coach how much he wanted Kirchofer to start.
"I just want to keep our mojo what it is," says the modest Sacramento center. "Have Rob go out there and then have me come in and do my thing."
"That told me volumes about this basketball team and their roles," Montgomery reflects on the conversations he had Friday with both his centers. "I explained to the players that starting Joe diminished his role a little bit. Joe has a very valuable role for us and been great."
Kirchofer played just 17 minutes, despite the starting nod, but he was exploding with energy in just the second start in his five-year Stanford career. As Childress postulated, the center truly was brimming with aggression. While he was adamant about not wanting to break from his bench role, he is a player who has been as hungry for playing time as any on the roster. He grabbed this opportunity with gusto and was as active as we have ever seen him on the court. Kirchofer snared three rebounds before the first media timeout, and he was aggressive in his shooting opportunities when he saw the basket.
While he failed to score during his first set of possessions on the floor, he would return to action in the middle of the first half and went right back to work, grabbing two more rebounds and scoring his first points from the field on a turnaround jump hook over Mitch Platt. His five boards and two points in nine minutes were admirable, but Kirchofer's activity in the second half was the real crowd pleaser. The fifth-year senior center once again took the floor in the same starting lineup, and he scored on a catch-and-drive layup on the first couple passes of the half. His next basket came on a pair of hot potato offensive rebounds under the basket, the second of which went down. He scored again two minutes later on another offensive rebound and putback lay-in. Kirchofer hit double digits in the scoring column when he returned to the floor late in the second half and found himself twice at the charity stripe, converting all four attempts.
Afterward he was absolutely beaming, and both teammates and coaches could not be more proud.
"Joe might not be more talented than some guys in this league, but he gets more done," praises Montgomery. "Joe did a nice job - got himself a double-double. It was a fitting end."
Kirchofer was also one of the most enthusiastic of the players who went over to the still standing Sixth Man Club after the end of the game to jump around in their midst, and slap high fives all around. It was a lovefest that even the most cynical of fans had to love, as the players wanted to demonstrably thank the students who have been a rock of support all season long at home.
"I can't envision another time in my life when people will sleep out to see me play," Kirchofer says with a chuckle.
The second half of this game never saw Oregon get closer than 14 points, despite some inspiring streaks of scoring by Aaron Brooks and Luke Jackson, which helped to keep the crowd's positive energy high. Stanford's offense was not exactly a show-stopper, with just 12 field goals in the half and 35 points. Instead, it was the Cardinal's lockdown defense that brought fans to their feet. After holding the Ducks to just nine field goals in the first half, they allowed only 10 in the second half from the high-tempo and sharpshooting visitors.
At the final buzzer, Oregon managed just 55 points, their lowest output of the season (previous low was 60 points in a win vs. Washington State). The Ducks were held to 31.1% shooting on the game, which was just the second time they had been held to less than 40% from the field and easily their lowest (35.0% vs. Kansas) of the year. Oregon had the #1 three-point shooting team in the conference coming into the game but mustered just 30.8% in this game, their second worst performance of the year. Luke Jackson got his 18 points, but he had to jack up 18 shots to get there and hit just 1-of-5 from beyond the arc.
"We feel like if we defend as well as we are capable, that will keep us in games," Montgomery declares. "Then you probe things on offense until you figure it out. Defene is about effort, heart and desire. It takes some skill too... But we have to do that. We're not going to dominate guys physically."
There were some moments of sadness at the end of the game, not just the send-off of the seniors, but also the final contest in this current incarnation of Maples Pavilion. No sooner had the court cleared than workers began disassembling and removing equipment from the floor and various back rooms. Moving boxes crowded the locker room, which will be transplanted by Monday to a set of temporary trailers for the next nine months. Gone will be the trademark bouncy floor that has been with Maples since its opening in 1969, which elicits mixed reactions from people. Some want it gone because of the rampant (though unscientific) rumors about its effect on player injuries. Others are sad to see it go.
"I think I'm going to miss the floor," Childress answers to a question about what he will miss most from the old Maples. "I like it. It's kind of a staple of Stanford Basketball."
- Though Stanford clinched the Pac-10 outright title last week, they wanted to celebrate at home today after the final Maples home game. The team donned Pac-10 Champion tee-shirts and hats after the game in the middle of the court, jumping up and down together. Justin Davis was given a chance to take the microphone and address the crowd, which was a nice gesture given that he could not play in his final Stanford home game.
- Kirchofer had the strongest game of the two seniors who did take the floor, with Matt Lottich scoring just six points - all in the first half. He shot 2-of-11 from the field, including 2-of-8 from three-point range. The streaky senior shooting guard hit just 3-of-11 from downtown this week after a scorching 4-of-4 last Saturday at Pauley Pavilion.
- Just as impressive as Stanford's suffocating three-point defense against the best outside shooting team in the conference was their own long-range offensive output. Oregon owned the Pac-10's best three-point defense in the league - by a huge margin - at 31.9%. So it shocked the feathered faithful when the Card cranked out 54.4% shooting from three-point range in the first half and 45.0% for the game. Stanford shot just 36.8% from outside in the teams' previous meeting in Eugene.
- The emphasis for Stanford defensively on shutting down Oregon's low post players was also successful. Mitch Platt and Ian Crosswhite with 25 points up in Eugene, with Platt ripping down 10 rebounds. Today, Platt was held to just two points on 1-of-5 shooting and 14 minutes of play. Crosswhite played 29 minutes but managed just six points on 1-of-8 shooting. Interestingly, Oregon actually had one of their best scoring runs of the game when they went small and put Luke Jackson at the power forward position. Matt Haryasz could not guard the All-American scorer, who put up a quick seven points against that matchup. That is something to keep in mind should these two teams meet again in the second round of the Pac-10 Tournament in a couple weeks.
- Don't look now, but Josh Childress is really coming on. In the last two weeks, he has raised his field goal percentage from .442 to .494. His three-point percentage has climbed from .366 to .439, which is easily the best he has ever shot going into March during his Stanford career. Even his free throw accuracy is climbing, hitting 27 of his last 29 attempts in his last five games. His scoring average has climbed from 12.9 ppg to 15.4 ppg in the last two weeks as well. He's starting to get scary, and that layered on top of Stanford's defense (holding two straight opponents to season lows in scoring) is as much as source of optimism for the approaching post-season as the 25-0 record the #1 ranked Cardinal hold today.
- This game concludes a perfect 14-0 home season for Stanford at Maples Pavilion, which is just the third time in the building's history that the Card have gone undefeated at home. Stanford went 12-0 during Brevin Knight's senior season in 1996-97 and 13-0 during Todd Lichti's senior season in 1988-89.
- In other Pac-10 action, Washington (10-6) completed a road sweep in the desert and maintain their half-game lead over Arizona (10-7) for second place in the conference. How those two teams finish next week is of no consequence to the Cardinal, as the #2 and #3 seeds in the conference will be on the other side of the bracker from Stanford in the Pac-10 Tournament. The immediate question on the minds of Cardinalmaniacs™ is who will snag that #8 seed, which Stanford will face in their opener at the Staples Center. With their 0-2 week in the Bay Area, Oregon State (5-11) has slipped to ninth behind Washington State (6-10). If the season ended today, the Card and Cougars would meet on March 11. But Wazzu still has to host Stanford and California next week, while OSU gets the impotent LA schools in Corvallis. Should the Beavs catch the Cougs in the standings, Oregon State would get the nod in the head-to-head tiebreaker with their 2-0 season sweep of WSU. The next question is who Stanford could catch in their second round Friday game at Staples, which would be a #4 or #5 seed. Cal (9-7) has a two-game lead in fourth place right now in the conference, though they could certainly drop both games at the Washington schools next week. Even if they do not, there is a three-team logjam behind them that is impossible to sort out today. Oregon (7-9), USC (7-9) and UCLA (7-9) are all tied for those fifth through seventh slots. One of those teams will end up on Stanford's side of the bracket as the #5 seed, and that could possibly be the dreaded Trojans. Given their matchups this year and in the last few years, you most likely want to root against them next week in Oregon to lose enough to drop down to the #6 or #7 seed. If they take one of those two spots, then Stanford could not face USC unless and until they both make it to the final game.
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