Stanford Passes Ivy Exam

By the end of Wednesday night's home game against Dartmouth, a 71-54 victory, about the best thing you could say is that Stanford looked like a team that could win the Ivy League title. Despite an obvious athletic disparity between the two teams, a wealth of turnovers and mistakes prevented the Cardinal from rolling as you might hope or expect.

The game started off nicely, with the Cardinal taking an early 7-0 lead.  The first five points came from redshirt junior point guard Chris Hernandez, who has been inconsistent in his scoring offense.  Getting him on track is an emphasis for Stanford, so it was encouraging to see two of the first set plays in the halfcourt called for Hernandez.  Harkening back to the old "thumbs down" play that Brevin Knight ran so many times almost a decade ago, these two plays spread the rest of the court and isolated Hernandez and his defender for a drive to the hoop.  The first time, Hernandez made it all the way to the basket, converting an old fashioned three-point play with a free throw on the foul he drew.  The next time he started to drive from the top of the key, his defender sagged off, so Hernandez pulled up and drilled a mid-range jumper.

As has been the sad story of this year, though, no good offense goes unpunished.  On the defensive end, the Cardinal made major mistakes and gave the Big Green big space on the court to make a pair of three-pointers.  On the first, Dan Grunfeld and Matt Haryasz miscommunicated on a switch against a screen and then collided with each other - neither within 10 feet of the shooter.  Tim Morris let himself get caught on a screen for the second trey.  Stanford is ranked well behind the rest of the conference in three-point defense this year, and the 6-of-10 performance they allowed for Dartmouth only inflated that scarlet statistic.

Instead of running away with the game early, on the heels of that 7-0 start, the contest remained even much of the first half.  It was not until six and a half minutes remained in the half that the Cardinal were able to regain that margin; at the midpoint in the half, it was just a one-point affair  The talent disparity between Stanford and Dartmouth is alarming, but the wealth of mistakes that Stanford made in the first half and throughout the game obscured that gap.  Hernandez and Jason Haas both committed unforced turnovers, falling down or dribbling the ball of their body, without any defender touching them.  Haryasz traveled when he tried to make moves around slow and unathletic "stiffs".  Several players committed unnecessary fouls on both ends of the floor.

It was not pretty.

The one positive was a defensive intensity that showed up in the rebounding column (21-12 advantage) and with several interceptions in the Dartmouth passing lanes.  The Card were able to get out and run off stops and steals, getting a few easy looks that helped them build to a nine-point lead at halftime, 33-24.  Stanford scored their last eight points of the half on free throws.

The second half again started on a bright Hernandez note, much like the first, as he stroked a pair of three-pointers to open up the scoring and bust the Big Green zone.  The Cardinal had failed to hit a triple at any time in the first half (0-of-4), but they stretched the lead in the second stanza with five strikes from outside the arc.  That mark is tops on the season, and is an encouraging note after Stanford made four three-pointers in their previous game against UC Davis.  Hernandez added another trey later in the half and finished the game three-of-four from outside.  Dan Grunfeld and Nick Robinson made the other three-point shots; it was the second straight game Grunfeld hit from outside after making just three three-pointers in the first seven games of the year.

But the turnovers continued, and they remained quite ugly - totaling 18 in the game.  Pratfalls, errant passes and travels.  Most of the turnovers were (again) unforced, and that should chill Cardinalmaniacs™ to the core.  I say without reservation that Dartmouth is easily the most unathletic team that Stanford will face this year.  It is the ball pressure or tempo from more athletic players that often forces turnovers, but to make these gaffes against a team tantamount to a practice squad is unacceptable.  Though this game finished with the largest victory margin of the year (17 points), it showed Stanford to look the least like an NCAA Tournament team of any game to date this season.

In the spirit of the holiday season, however, here are some honest notes of progress and encouragement I can report:

  • Peter Prowitt - The big freshman did not see the floor in the UC Davis game because he has a narrow comfort zone near the basket.  Against a midget lineup like the Aggies presented, with their "big men" playing outside the three-point line consistently, Prowitt stayed on the bench.  But this Dartmouth game was exactly the environment for him - big men who operate in the paint.  The freshman center logged 13 minutes and performed well.  He blocked shots in both halves, tallying four for the game, and he rebounded well (five total; three offensive).  His post defense was solid, as he did not bite on too many fakes and kept his long arms vertical.  Prowitt chipped in seven points on 7-of-8 shooting at the free throw line.  The athleticism of his competition will improve significantly in Pac-10 play, but this performance was pretty close to the niche that the 6'10" frosh has available to him this year.  It was the best he has played this year, which has to boost his confidence and that of the coaching staff.
  • Tim Morris - He scored more points in the UC Davis game, but for the breadth of his play, this was a better game.  Morris was out of control in the first half of the home opener against the Aggies, and only in the second half did he let the game come to him, scoring 11 of his career-high 13 points.  In this Dartmouth game, he cut down his turnovers and made smarter plays on offense and defense.  The most notable impact came on the defensive end, with his game-high and career-high five steals.  Morris has an explosive first step reacting to the ball that let him intercept Dartmouth passes and several time initiate scores in transition.  The one black mark on his 24 minutes of play came at the end, when he fouled out of the game.  Morris picked up his fifth foul after a highlight dunk over a Dartmouth's Jason Meyer, which electrified a yawning Maples crowd.  The redshirt freshman was given a technical foul, which also counted as his fifth personal foul for giving a stare at the fallen Dartmouth forward.  It was a horrible whistle, but it was made by a Pac-10 official who had his boss (Lou Campanelli) in the house and was trying to impress.  Taunting is a point of emphasis in the league this year, and this was a marginal (at best) example of that infraction, but one that was easier to call with a 22-point game and just four minutes to go.  Had Morris said anything to Meyer after the dunk, it might have been better justified.
  • Fred Washington - His minutes have been controversially limited thus far this year, averaging just over seven minutes per game plus another game where he never got off the bench.  The sophomore wing enjoyed 15 minutes against Dartmouth, and he had a nice stretch in the second half that included on offensive rebound and putback.  Down the floor immediately on the other end he grabbed a defensive rebound to start the break, which he finished with a drive across the lane and a lay-in.  The scores came off the boards, and that is the kind of stuff that the coaches want to see.  You can expect to see more minutes for Washington if he continues that kind of play.

Complete game box score

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