In a game where Stanford wanted to assert itself in the post, with a decisive size advantage of frontcourt players, the Cardinal got 53 points from their starting backcourt in a nailbiting overtime win over the University of San Francisco late Friday night. Junior shooting guard Dan Grunfeld carried the first half for Stanford and finished with a career high of 23 points and 11 rebounds, while redshirt junior point guard Chris Hernandez tallied 30 points on the game for his own career high, including 17-of-18 free throw shooting.
For Hernandez, it was a bittersweet performance. He came into this season opener with less than two weeks of practices, after sitting out more than a month with an ankle sprain. Hernandez' first scrimmage experience came in the exhibition game six days earlier against Concordia University, and his play revealed how much rust remained in his timing and handle. This regular season opener showed more of the same, with a completely uncharacteristic number of mistakes. The preseason All-American tallied seven turnovers versus three assists, and he did not swallow those mistakes happily.
"I played a horrible game," Hernandez declared afterward. "I probably had 20 turnovers out there. Maybe we should have had the ball in somebody else's hands... As everyone can see, I have a lot of rust to get out of my game."
The perfectionist point guard was too mired in his mistakes to recognize the value of his handling the ball late in this game. Hernandez scored 20 of Stanford's final 30 points in the game, including 15-of-16 free throw shooting and a pair of baskets, in the last nine-plus minutes.
The mistakes that Hernandez remembers so painfully came in the final seven seconds of regulation. After watching a seven-point lead evaporate in the final minute of the game, the score was tied at 76-76 with 11.1 seconds remaining in the second half. The ball was successfully inbounded to Hernandez for a final possession and chance to win the game, but has the Stanford floor general raced down the sideline with the ball, he stepped out of bounds and turned it over with 6.6 seconds remaining. That gave USF suddenly the final possession and chance to win, but Hernandez made a courageous play by swiping the ball out of a USF player's hands, deflecting out of bounds and returning the ball back to Stanford with 1.6 left on the under their own basket. It would take a long pass across halfcourt to give the Cardinal a meaningful shot, so they ran a new inbounds play they had practiced in recent weeks.
Fifth-year senior Nick Robinson took the ball at the spot it went out of bounds, and passed it to Hernandez 15 feet away behind the baseline. Hernandez would then intend to throw a pass down the court without a defender in his face to impede the throw. That play is legal after a made basket, when you can use the breadth of the baseline to inbound the ball, but this was an inbound play after the ball had been knocked out. The only legal spot where the ball could be thrown was the original spot. The pass out of bounds to Hernandez was whistled as a turnover.
"If we had really thought about it, it was a dead ball... It was a miscommunication," the point guard offers on the play. "It was not a smart play. It's still early in the season - we have time to get things cleaned up."
USF had the ball under the Stanford basket with 1.6 still on the clock, needing only a short inbounds pass and a good look at the basket. Stanford defended well enough to make the final buzzer shot deflect harmlessly off the side of the backboard, sending the two teams to overtime.
The good news was that the Dons had already fouled out two players and had another with four personals. Stanford arguably had a personnel advantage going into the five-minute bonus period, but the bad news was that USF had a world of momentum and still had sixth-year senior John Cox on the floor. Cox scored 11 points in a row in the final 1:50 of the second half for the Dons, with three three-pointers and a pair of free throws, trimming a seven-point Stanford lead to a single point. It all started with an off-balance heave from outside the arc that went down and sparked the comeback; his final three-pointer was also a leaning off-balance toss that rattled around the rim four times before falling.
Cox did add another outside bomb in the extra period, but it was not enough as the Cardinal controlled the overtime, running away with a 10-point victory. The sixth-year guard for USF had his heroics in the game, but he spent a lot of ammunition to get there. Cox put up 12 shots in the first half and 28 attempts from the field in the game, including 16 three-point attempts. As a reference point, the all-time Stanford record for most three-pointers hoisted in a game is 15 (Peter Dukes vs. Arizona in 1992). Cox made just 11 field goals in the game, shooting 39% from the field.
The overtime started off ominously, with a Stanford turnover in the opening seconds leading to an uncontested USF lay-in for the first two points. But the Card bounced back quickly with a Hernandez corner three-pointer to reclaim a one-point advantage. Stanford led the remainder of the overtime. Scores came primarily from Hernandez and from junior power forward Matt Haryasz, as the two took control of the offense in the bonus period. The 6'11" Cardinal post player came into the game with an injured left foot (plastar fasciitis), and as a result head coach Trent Johnson declared on Thursday he would try to limit Haryasz' minutes to a max of 25. The official scoring showed that Haryasz logged 25 minutes in the first two halves, and then a necessary five more in overtime, but they erred in their statistics. The scoreboard operator, and subsequently the official statistician, showed senior center Rob Little (#42) in the game for a four and a half minute stretch in the first half when Haryasz (#52) instead was in the game. In truth, Haryasz logged more than 29 minutes in the first 40 of play, and then a total of more than 34 minutes including overtime.
Despite the soreness to his foot, the Stanford big man was aggressive and opportunistic late in his minutes. Stanford's second basket of the overtime, stretching the one-point lead to three, came on a Dan Grunfeld putback of a Haryasz turnaround jumpshot attempt. With his bad wheel, Haryasz still managed to beat the defense down the floor in transition a few possessions later for a dunk off a Stanford defensive stop. The exciting Cardinal junior added four more points in the final minute with a successful baseline jumper and a pair of free throws. He also leapt above the crowd several times for key rebounds, finishing with a career high of 11 boards in the game to go along with his 14 points.
But over the breadth of the contest, the Stanford inside game was not as successful as it should have been. USF started a three-guard lineup, with 6'7" and 6'8" forwards in their frontcourt. The 6'11" Haryasz and 6'10" Little should have dominated on the boards and in the scoring column, be it from the field or the free throw line. But at halftime, the smaller USF led the Stanford redwoods with a 20-18 rebounding advantage. Little and Haryasz combined for eight points and four rebounds in that opening stanza.
Trent Johnson made it a point of emphasis in the second half to try and establish the inside game, calling plays to his post players in Stanford's first two possessions. Little converted on the first, with a turnaround short shot off the glass; Haryasz missed on the second when he moved too far under the basket and drew a trap that gave him a difficult look at the basket that did not connect. Little scored next in transition, and Haryasz was the middle man the subsequent possession on a give-and-go with Nick Robinson that ended in a blown lay-up. Despite the best intentions, that inside game never reached control of contest, and Stanford went to a smaller lineup. For the final 12:28 of the second half, Trent Johnson played Robinson at the power forward and either Haryasz or Little at center. Two true Stanford post players did not team up on the floor together again until midway through the overtime, when Stanford started to pull away. It has to be regarded as a failure by the Stanford team, for the players and the coaches, to allow the smaller USF lineup to dictate that the Cardinal go small. It was a point of emphasis coming into the game that Little and Haryasz needed to dominate down low, and that failed. It is but one data point in the opening game of a long season, but it is not a positive one.
The blame is not to all be laid at the feet of Haryasz and Little, however. Haryasz shot better than 50% from the field and Little was a perfect 3-of-3 shooting the ball. Little did hurt himself by picking up two fouls in the first half, taking him out of action for the final eight minutes before halftime. But the Stanford guards hurt him at least as much by not getting him the ball with successful entry passes. The starting backcourt of Hernandez and Grunfeld played a combined 86 minutes in the game and mustered just five combined assists. As a team, Stanford recorded only 14 assists in the game versus 20 turnovers. USF worked all game to pressure the ball on the perimeter, and it paid off.
"Chris [Hernandez] was the focal point of their defense," comments Trent Johnson.
With entry to the post difficult, the Stanford guards opted to try and make the Dons pay for their overplay on the perimeter. Hernandez got to the line for many of his points, but he also shot 6-of-9 from the field and attacked the basket. Grunfeld was as aggressive as we have ever seen him in a Stanford uniform, attempting 16 shots from the field and converting at a 56% clip. Almost all of his damage came driving to the basket, which is the best play he can make if a defender wants to come out and play him tightly. The 6'6" junior was hot out of the gates, scoring 10 of Stanford's first 16 points in the game and 14 of the first 25. Grunfeld scored 10 straight for the Cardinal at one point.
Grunfeld scored 15 points in 18 minutes in the first half, and he cooled a little later with eight points in the final 25. He came out of the game for only a three-second rest in the entire second half and played all of the overtime period. He did manage to score a critical bucket on a putback in overtime, though, and he bombed a three-pointer from outside the NBA arc in the second stanza.
"I was just trying to play my game - be aggressive," Grunfeld comments.
The other Stanford player to log more than 40 minutes in the game was fifth-year senior Nick Robinson. He played 41 minutes in the game, split between the small and power forward positions. He had a terrible time offensively in the game, shooting 0-of-6 in the first half and 1-of-10 in the game. Missed layups and errant jumpers have now plagued him in his first two public performances this year against competition - the Concordia exhibition being the other game. Maybe more disappointing was the absence of rebounding in such big minutes Friday night, including long stretches as the power forward. Robinson pulled down just two boards all game.
Trent Johnson played his five juniors and seniors a combined 183 minutes in his first regular season game as Stanford's head coach, while giving the five scholarship freshmen and sophomores a combined 42 minutes. 6'10" freshman center Peter Prowitt never entered the game.
If there is one team positive in the game, it would be the overall defensive job done against a veteran USF squad. Though there were painful baskets allowed on open jumpers at times, Stanford still held the Dons to just 34.6% shooting from the field. The Cardinal played man-to-man defense all game, except for one possession out of a time out when they switched to a zone. That single zone defensive possession in the first half yielded a turnover.
Stanford departed at 9:00 AM Saturday morning after a late game Friday night for the long flight to Hawaii. The Cardinal will play three games in three days, starting Monday, in the Maui Invitational. With Hernandez still well behind in his conditioning after his missed time in October and November, and with Haryasz playing with a bad left foot, it could be problematic for Trent Johnson if the minutes are not spread out more in Paradise.
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