On a night when Chauncey Billups was honored at a school he never played for, it seems only fitting that a nine-year old towel boy could steal the show. Sure, the visiting Denver Nuggets cheerleaders were fun to look at, and Billups' 600-karat watch glistened across the arena whenever he waived his hand, but in the end, the towel boy received the loudest cheers.
Oh by the way, Stanford picked up their first win in three weeks. It seemed as though they would finally cruise in a game against a Sun Belt muddler, taking an early 23-9 lead built mostly from putbacks and uncontested jumpers. Then suddenly the game turned in the paint. Seemingly every trip down the floor resulted in a block shot or a turnover for the Cardinal. On the other end, the Denver backcourt combo of Rodney Billups and Andrew Carpenter were penetrating and dishing, slicing the lead to two points at the half. The Cardinal big who was most M.I.A. was Matt Haryasz, who did not make any successful moves towards the goal. Rob Little seemed to have little trouble getting his, and even Peter Prowitt made a nice up-and-under for his only points of the game. Haryasz' absence underneath has to be a concern going forward for Card fans, as he was expected to be one of the conference's premiere big men.
Stanford's backcourt was highlighted by a well rounded game from Dan Grunfeld, who picked up loose balls, snatched rebounds out of the hands of the Pioneer big men, and took it to the hoop with the reckless abandon we have come to know and love. Chris Hernandez made some nice moves off the dribble, but couldn't get his pull-up jumper to fall, leading to a 4-of-13 night from the field. When it came time to ice the game with free throws though, Hernandez was his usual steady self.
The second half was back and forth, and with Stanford up one point with a minute to play, things got dicey. After a turnover, Tim Morris gambled on a steal and sent Andrew Carpenter to the line for a one-and-one. Carpenter missed; Stanford grabbed the rebound and missed a shot at the other end but Grunfeld seemed to make a game-saving offensive board. Then, during the inbounds play after a timeout, Nick Robinson could not get the ball in cleanly to Jason Haas, who stepped out of bounds trying to retrieve it. Now in possession of the ball, the Pioneers could hold for the last shot. Instead, they cleared the lane for Andrew Carpenter who came off a screen and headed for an apparently uncontested lay-up. Out of nowhere, Morris comes flying in and redeems himself by swatting away the shot.
A few free throws from both sides ran the final tally to 56-52 (and that's a Stanford cover for you gambleholics out there), but Card fans held their collective breath when senior center Rob Little stayed down after colliding with a Pioneer on a loose ball. Little took a knee to the back, but shook it off and appeared to suffer no serious injury. I caught up with the big fella after the game and he had this to say:
On tonight's opponent:
"I think they are a good team. Nicholson is the best big man we have faced all year. He and Billups make a hell of a combination. We couldn't guard the screen-and-roll at all in the first half."
On the slow start:
"This has been the toughest preseason Stanford has played in a long time. Going to Maui to play three consecutive games, especially for the young guys, is a lot to deal with. We haven't played a home game yet, so that makes it tough. We aren't discouraged though; the Pac-10 is still there for the taking. It's right in front of us. Our goals haven't changed."
Trent Johnson vs. Mike Montgomery:
"They really aren't that different. No one wants to believe that, but it's true. The calls are the same; the plays are the same; the defense is the same. The only real difference is Coach Johnson gives us more leeway on offense. And that comes back on us - to take good shots and make those shots. He has given me a lot of respect and the other guys a lot of respect, and he has created a really positive environment for us to learn in."
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