It feels good to have the turnover shoe on the other foot. Less than 24 hours after turning the ball more than any Stanford team has since the 2001-02 season, the Cardinal enjoyed their first positive assist-to-turnover ratio (13:11) of the season while playing a part in engendering 19 turnovers for BYU. Stanford also had their most successful and stress-free second half of a game this young season, stretching a narrow three-point halftime lead to a 14-point advantage with an opening 11-0 run in the first four minutes.
But the first half was touch-and-go. Stanford had wanted to assert its inside game with veteran frontcourt tandem Rob Little and Matt Haryasz but instead found all their punch in their first two games this year from the backcourt. BYU has good size on their roster and would seem unlikely to force the Cardinal into a small lineup like we saw for significant stretches against USF and Tennessee. Instead, Haryasz picked up two fouls in the first three and a half minutes of the first half, sending him to the bench within a minute. He played just four minutes in the opening stanza and did not return until after halftime. Little also picked up two fouls in the first half, and he reached his fourth foul before the halfway mark of the second half.
Lacking the inside game, Stanford had to rely on defense. The Cougars are reputed to be one of the better shooting teams in the West this year, but the Cardinal locked down and allowed just nine BYU field goals in the first half while forcing 12 turnovers. Stanford had their own problems scoring in the first half, including a span of nearly six minutes without a basket. These two teams had hemorrhaged in the turnover column on Monday (including 27 for BYU), so they were anxious to keep the tempo under control in this game.
The pace of the game appeared to be one where Trent Johnson was comfortable playing some of his bench players who had seen scarce minutes in the previous two games of the season. Freshman center Peter Prowitt made his first appearance of his Cardinal career in the first half with Haryasz out of the game for so long. The 6'10" frosh grabbed two rebounds and blocked a shot in those first five minutes of play. Classmate Taj Finger played also played well, grabbing a pair of boards, scoring a basket and snaring a steal.
Redshirt freshman Tim Morris played in the first half and then played even more in the second stanza. BYU's zone defense challenged the Cardinal shooters, but Morris made them pay. The 6'4" wing may be inconsistent in his shooting and he may make mistakes on defense, but his playmaking ability attacking the basket is a verifiable strength. Morris scored six of his 10 points in the second half, but he made a bigger impact driving and drawing double-teams. He did not commit any offensive fouls charging with the ball and he didn't turn it over. Morris made smart passes when defenses collapsed on him and gave teammates easy baskets. In one stretch, the redshirt frosh either scored or assisted for 13 straight points. It was a very encouraging performance to give himself, his teammates and the coaches confidence in him.
At the end of that Morris-spurred run, Stanford led the game by 15 points. A handful of BYU scores in the final minute brought the margin to single digits, getting as close as seven in the last 20 seconds of regulation, but the game was on cruise control.
Another encouraging performance came from junior Dan Grunfeld, who averaged 21 points his first two games and threw in 20 against BYU. In addition to his solid shooting night, he grabbed seven boards and did a good job taking care of the ball. With a third data point now on the young season, we have to say we are believers in the new and improved Grunfeld. Maybe the only thing missing is his passing. The savvy wing averaged 3.0 assists per 40 minutes of play last year as a sophomore but has assisted only three times through 108 minutes of play through the first three games this year (1.1 assists/40 minutes). But that is picking nits, though, given how much of the scoring load Grunfeld is carrying thus far.
One relieving performance was the game by fifth-year senior Nick Robinson, who played big minutes at the power forward position with Haryasz and Prowitt in foul trouble. He did not fill up the scoring column, but he did more of those little things that have typified his beloved play the last couple years - active on the boards (eight rebounds), sharing the ball (two assists) and opportunistic with hustle plays on defense (three steals). Robinson also scored his eight points on easily the most palatable shooting (4-of-8) we have seen from him this season. He went a long way toward a lot of wins the last two years as a spark and playmaker. Robinson has to find himself again this year because his minutes are greater than ever and his negative production on the floor has been troublesome.
The greatest disappointment would be that Little and Haryasz allowed themselves to get in so much foul trouble. The starting frontcourt, which has a dreadfully thin bench behind them, played a combined 42 minutes in this game. The cardinal sin they committed was biting on pump-fakes and leaving their feet, where BYU players could draw the easy foul. This is an area where both Stanford players have been warned and coached a good deal in recent weeks, so it was disappointing to see a senior and a junior make those mistakes. And as we have seen before, when his flow is interrupted with foul trouble, Little struggles to produce anything even in his limited minutes. To his credit, Haryasz did manage to still make things happen on the defensive end with three blocked shots and several more altered attempts, as well as eight rebounds in 23 minutes.
In the end analysis, this was a win. In recent years, Stanford fans have looked at games as chances to rise higher in the national rankings or to maintain a #1 ranking, but this is a year where you will be counting wins carefully in January and February toward an NCAA Tournament bid. Every win is valuable, and BYU ought to be a solid team from a solid conference. This win also sets up a great Maui finale against Louisville, who is ranked #12 in the nation and provides a great early season test out of the conference. The Cardinals have fantastic playmakers who bring both athleticism and skills to the floor, not to mention a Rick Pitino tempo that will be an interesting environment for this Stanford team.
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