Cardinal Survive Second Half Scare

It's time to readjust how we watch Stanford Basketball. The last several years, post-game debate has centered upon the style points of the victory. This year, the margin between a win and a loss is thin, and Thursday night was a classic case against Oregon State. Trent Johnson says there will be no "cruise" for Stanford this year, and that looked evident against the Beavers.

There are two ways to look at Thursday night's tight win over Oregon State.  You can look at the stat sheet and give your keyboard and clenched-fist pound at the recurring story of Stanford's woeful rebounding.  The Cardinal came into Thursday with a four-game winning streak, accompanied by a streak of four straight contests where they were outrebounded.  During that stretch, Stanford had given up 18.3 offensive boards per game and been outrebounded by an average of 5.5 boards overall.  The Beavers perfectly fell in line with those stats, beating the home Card by five boards (42 to 37) and grabbing 18 offensive rebounds.

Rebounding is most definitely a problem.  Also on this evening, free throws were a nightmare, with the Cardinal capitalizing on just 18-of-31 at the charity stripe.  For the first 37 minutes of the game, Stanford shot 8-of-19 and failed to put away the pesky Beavers.  Free throw shooting and poor rebounding in the second half combined with an offensive slump for what was almost one of the worst collapses in recent Maples Pavilion history.  Stanford led Oregon State 48-30 six minutes into the second half but failed to hit a field goal in the next five and a half minutes.  Four and a half minutes more went by before the Card's next basket.  That 18-point lead crumbled all the way to nothing, and for the last five-plus minutes of the contest, the affair was nip and tuck.  Oregon State tied up the game at 54-54 at the 5:24 mark and twice held leads in the next two minutes.

To see Stanford play so poorly in the second half in just about all phases of the game was disheartening.  It's possibly enough to make you walk away from the game unhappy with the win.

Conversely, you can sit back and celebrate the win because it is a win.  Remind yourself that the Cardinal community was begging for victories a few short weeks ago when Stanford was sitting at 6-7 overall and 0-3 in the Pac-10.  This team is not immensely talented, and with each passing week they seemingly lose a piece of their scant depth.  Ugly wins are wins nonetheless.

"It's going to be scratch-and-claw every game," says junior Matt Haryasz about the remainder of this season for this team.

"It looks good when you outrebound your opponent and win, but the bottom line is we're winning," charges senior Rob Little.

"That's the stat that matters," Haryasz immediately adds.

The Cardinal have now run their record to 11-7 and feel like a team that could challenge their way into the NCAA Tournament.  At 5-3, they still hold sole possession of third place in the Pac-10 and have six of their last 10 games in the conference at home.

But Thursday night's tale of two halves could foreshadow darker times in the remainder of this season.  Stanford came out firing on all cylinders in the first half, shooting better than 53% from the field.  A continued emphasis on the inside-out offense pounded Oregon State in the post with Little and Haryasz combining for 18 points on 9-of-11 shooting from the field.  Stanford led the entire half comfortably, starting with a 23-8 lead.  Only once in the final 16-plus minutes of the opening stanza did Stanford have a lead less than double digits.  That allowed Trent Johnson to play significant minutes for his mini-bench of three substitutes.  That in turn allowed his starters to keep fresh legs for the second half.

If fatigue was not the cause of the second half meltdown, then there is no easy explanation.  The starting frontcourt duo of Little and Haryasz were alarmingly absent after halftime, combining for six fouls and three points.  Little hit for 10 points in the first half but laid a big egg in the second, not only failing to score but also coming up empty in all four of his trips to the free throw line.  He was 0-of-8 in the game.  Haryasz managed five points in the second half but struggled mentally and physically as he was strangled by a Dave Libbey-led officiating crew that hit him with five fouls.

"I know I didn't feel fatigued," Haryasz maintains.  "Especially in a game like that.  You don't feel winded in a game like that."

Haryasz finished the game with a double-double of 13 points and 11 boards, but he had a chance to do so much more with the offensive rhythm he so established in the first half shooting the ball.  It was a continuation of his newfound freedom to face the basket and shoot more from the perimeter, which Trent Johnson handed to him last weekend in Los Angeles.  But Haryasz, though now a veteran on this team, showed that he can still be distracted and disturbed by Pac-10 officiating and fell off his game.

Johnson says that his senior center's trouble in the second half could also be attributed to a lack of focus.

"Rob Little looked like he was having an ulcer out there because he missed two free throws," the head coach comments.

"Shooting [0-of-8] is not a big deal," Little begins.  "But then you look at a game like that and it is a big deal.  Coach told me afterward to put it behind me."

The Cardinal held on, and a theme was that kind of encouragement from Johnson to his players.  It would be easier to lambaste them for their failings, especially the rebounding that has been so poor in so many games of late.  But Johnson is taking a tact instead of reinforcing his team's achievements.

"We have to focus on how good we played to get to this position in this league," the first-year Stanford head coach offers.  When his team was on the ropes and struggling in the second half, he maintained an even keel.  "Keep your poise.  Stay aggressive.  Execute."

With the big men missing in action and the Beavers rapidly gaining ground, it fell on the Stanford perimeter to hold the fort.  Dan Grunfeld and Chris Hernandez broke a long offensive drought with a pair of buckets around the four-minute mark.  Those shots ended a stretch of nearly 10 minutes with one field goal and just seven points.  Nick Robinson was active on both ends of the floor, but he had been whistled for questionable fouls by the maniacal officiating crew.  One such foul came on a clean steal by Robinson that was followed by a delayed whistle.  Robinson just a few possessions later made an almost identical play and appeared to have drawn another inexplicable foul call, only to see the foul reversed moments later to Oregon State's J.S. Nash, who had hacked the Stanford senior after his steal.  Robinson hit both his free throws, extending a one-point lead to three at 61-58.

Those made free throws gave Stanford its first breathing room in quite a while, and it ended a long run of free throw folly for the Cardinal.  Hernandez handled the ball much of the final three minutes and earned eight trips to the charity stripe, hitting all of them.  The redshirt junior point guard finished with 23 points on the game, scoring 15 in the second half.  Grunfeld chipped in a quiet 15 points on 7-of-14 shooting, though he failed to hit a three-pointer for the first time since the Denver game in December 13.  Hernandez hit Stanford's only trey of the day.  Oregon State was 0-of-5 from behind the arc for the game, though they came to the Bay Area shooting third-best in the conference from deep at 37.8%.

Complete game box score


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