The brief summary is that Wazzu looked like a lock to NOT make the trip to the Pac-10 post-season tournament in Thursday night's game, and Stanford dominated. As frustrating as the Oregon loss was, it was a great competitive game that told us a lot about this team. I'm afraid there isn't as much to be drawn from this edition of the Wazzu Whippings. 12 straight, is it now? Well, you can be pleased about this: this was largely the same talents from last year's Cougar squad that gave Stanford fits, both home and away. Stanford actually trailed WSU at Maples at the half last year, and only won by 11 in each of the two games. In this meeting, Stanford bettered that margin - in each half. The Card outscored the Cougs by 19 in the first stanza, and 14 in the second. With the exception of a lull in the middle of the first half, where WSU knocked a 14-point deficit down to 9, Stanford steadily extended its lead throughout the game.
While Wazzu looked like a dreadful shooting team on the floor, you have to give some credit to Stanford's defense. The Cougs had a nightmare of a time against Stanford's half-court defense, which stayed man-to-man throughout the game. They did have some success in transition, but with Stanford's offense this night, those opportunities were few and far between. Mike Bush, who went for 23 in Pullman last year, was held to just 4 points on 1 of 5 shooting. Jerry McNair, who went for 29 at Maples last year, scored 10 this go-around on 4 of 11 shooting. And Marcus Moore, who went for 16 on 5 of 7 shooting in Maples last year, was held to just 8 points this time, on 4 of 12 shooting. Given the scorched earth left in the wake of Wazzu's guards and wings last year, the coaches were fully prepared and anticipating the need to go to a zone defense. Quite to the contrary, there was hardly a hint of danger. Mission accomplished.
The opening moments of the game looked like a replay of last year, though. Marcus Moore took Tony Giovacchini off the dribble in three straight possessions to open the game, with ease. Kudos to Monty for quick and effective adjustment though, as he switched and put Julius on Moore. Marcus was fronted by JB or Chris Hernandez the remainder of the evening, and was completely frustrated. It was very apparent how good a job Chris did, as he was able to move laterally with a quickness that kept his body between Moore and the basket. Marcus would then dribble out and move the ball around for another set.
As Stanford's half-court defense tightened up, and as the deficit grew for Paul Graham's guys, the Cougs got into a nasty habit of chucking up some god-awful three point attempts. They hit just one trey in the first half, and three in the second - for a total of 4 for 18 shooting (22.2%). With flashes of BYU still haunting our collective psyche, it was nice to see the perimeter D force bad shots, and bad shooters to shoot.
One huge qualifying statement, though, is that Wazzu looked awful. They looked every bit the 4-11 (0-7) team.
The offense hummed throughout the evening, including a stellar 55% shooting effort in the first half. The second half lagged, and was not coincidentally a half dominated by reserve play. The 5 for 17 shooting from outside in the second half was not pretty, and neither was the rebounding. Stanford outrebounded Washington State by 5 in the first half, but played even in the second half. Given that Curtis Borchardt sat through most of the second half, you are not surprised. But against a team with no height at all, it's disheartening to see how much of a drop-off can come with C-Bo on the bench. It's not just height and ability, though. I saw throughout the game a lackluster effort in rebounding from Stanford. Though they may have looked like whipped dogs in other areas, Wazzu crashed the boards and flat-out outhustled Stanford. Crimson and gray uniforms would leap through the air, while the home team often stayed flat-footed. That ticked me off, and I imagine the coaches will harp on it as well.
Individually, there were a lot of strong offensive efforts for Stanford. Casey and Curtis each chipped in 15, and could have done more damage had they not been pulled in the blow-out. Curtis was the best performer of the night, though, hitting 6 of 9 from the field, with (I believe) no dunks. His short-range jumper is automatic right now, and he continued to shoot from outside. I was worried that his long-distance dialing we saw in Eugene might be a one night stand, crafted exclusively against the 7'2" Chris Christofferson. But Curtis took a couple more treys, including hitting his first. The green light is still on, or at least flickering at times. He really is a rare and exceptional high post player, and defenses will be altered by opposing coaches the more Curtis (and Monty) demonstrates this willingness. "Only" 7 boards for the big guy, which drops his average, but I'm satisfied in a 22-minute showing with few offensive boards to be had and most defensive boards going long off the rim. Casey honestly had a so-so night, with 5 of 12 shooting. He was instrumental in transition, though, where he picked up most of his game-high 6 assists.
Julius played predominately at the shooting guard, and had a solid night. 12 points in 20 minutes, on 5 of 7 shooting. His only misses were treys, but his deuces were spectacular. One of the top plays of the game found him in the corner in transition. He was open, received the ball, and exploded along the baseline to the bucket for a thunderous dunk. And I emphasize explode.
Speaking of guard play, it's notable that this is the first game this season where Chris Hernandez (23) logged more minutes than Tony Giovacchini (15). Tony got the start, and played a solid game. He was actually the guy in the game who led the team after WSU cut it to 9, and put the game out of reach. No points for Tony G, and only 3 from Chris. That trey came in his first play off the bench late in the first half, but he missed his 4 other attempts from the field. This is the second time in the last three games that Chris has edged up his minutes to a new career high. Something to watch.
Another position of note was the power forward position, where Justin Davis and Teyo Johnson logged almost all the minutes. They combined for 18 points, and Justin hit all four FG attempts on the night, plus his one free throw. Teyo didn't shoot as well, but he was a huge spark off the bench. These two guys might have been the only two post players for Stanford that really gave huge intensity. I was pleased. Justin had a couple great transition plays, including a steal where he took the ball the length of the court. He almost lost it as a defender bumped him, and he had to take off just inside the free throw line, but it was a nice finger roll lay-in.
Josh Childress had a strong second half, where he scored all of his 5 points. His highlight play came in the left corner. He swung the ball and his arms to his right, which got Jerry "Hot Air" McNair to commit. Josh then took off to his left and attacked the bucket unimpeded. He took off from the ground early, and stretched his arms out, almost like a kid reaching for a cookie jar that was too high on the shelf. But the incredible thing was that Josh hung in the air long enough that his arms did reach and slammed the leather through the iron. That isn't something you've seen at Stanford before. He is special, and needs to maintain his confidence. My big gripe with Josh's play this night was his rebounding. His long arms and quick reaction give him a tremendous advantage, and he indeed got his hands on the ball often. But he could have had three times as many boards on the night (he recorded 2) if he would be more physical with the ball. Wazzu players slapped it away before he could bring it down, repeatedly.
Matt Lottich provided his characteristic fire-plug energy when he came into the game, including some great plays in a spurt in the second half. He hit a nice trey, and had a steal that should have converted to a transition lay-up, but he missed the iron completely. There was a scuffle for the ball in the next possession, though, and matt laid out on the floor to punch the ball to Rob Little, which led to transition points for the Card. You love that effort, and playmaking knack. Unfortunately, he's playing with too much adrenaline, and dilutes his stellar moments with forgettable ones. He missed some three point shots badly, which he jacked up without getting his body set. One came from Casey-range, out by the "Maples Pavilion" logo. As he matures his play and brings his athleticism and energy into focus, he could be excellent. Right now, he's a gamble between two extremes.
Rob Little got solid minutes off the bench, and made some nice athletic plays. My great concern is that he struggles with his back to the basket in the low post if someone really puts a body on him. He's liable to short-arm his shot when you play him really physically.
Overall, this was the quickest Stanford basketball game I can ever remember. Elapsed time between the opening tip and the final buzzer was about an hour and forty minutes. No coincidence that this might be a season-low for fouls and foul shooting in the Pac-10. Neither team reached the double bonus in either half, and just 24 total fouls were called in the game. It was evident to me right from the start that the refs were going to let the guys play. Contact that would have easily been called for blocking or a charge was let go. I thought it was a solid officiating night, though, simply because they called it evenly both ways. In fact, I cannot recall a game I've ever watched before this in the conference where I had no grumbling with the officiating during or after the game. It wasn't just the 33-point final margin that made this a fun game to watch; it was the focus on the players and their plays, rather than zebras whimsically taking control. Somebody should make sure this crew is in LA for the Pac-10 tourney.