Ernie Kent and the Oregon Ducks might have smelled a little blood in the water coming to Maples Pavilion Saturday night. The Stanford program has had a checkered year thus far, and a series of events left the Cardinal with just eight viable players Thursday to suit up and play - only five of which scored. Oregon had a streak of losses at Maples stretching back to 1986 and hoped this would be the night they could attack and defeated a weakened Cardinal.
Trent Johnson and Stanford looked much more like the #1-ranked teams of recent years than the beleaguered squad of this season, when Saturday night they completely dismantled the Ducks 88-69. The final score does not do justice to the magnitude of the whipping the Card dished out, as Stanford led by as many as 28 points in the first half and held a lead of 30 points, plus or minus a few, throughout much of the second half. The inhospitable host Cardinal led early 5-0 and never looked back. Stanford led by double digits for the final 33 minutes of the game.
"I thought they were a pretty impressive basketball team," said Kent after the calamity. "They have their confidence and their swagger back, and they're playing well right now."
Kent smiled, even after such a humiliating loss, as he conversed with the assembled media after the game, while his Cardinal counterpart, Trent Johnson, looked like the man who had just been blistered. The first-year Stanford head coach dead-panned the answers to most of his questions in his post-game press conference and refused to exhibit any elation over what was so clearly the most complete and magnificent performance his team has put together this year.
"We played well. We won," he curtly commented. "It's a journey. It is what it is. Yeah, we won, and that beats the alternative."
It is true that Stanford is the hottest team in the Pac-10, and maybe West of the Mississippi, winning six straight and turning around miraculously from a 6-7 start (0-3 in conference) to their current standing at 12-7 and 6-3 in the Pac-10. With Washington's loss on Thursday to Arizona, followed by a stunning Washington State upset of the Wildcats earlier on Saturday, the Cardinal have incredibly climbed to within just one game of both UW and UA. Earlier this month, Stanford was the cellar dweller of the Pac-10 and the butt of many jokes up and down the West Coast. Today they are red hot and feared by all.
The offense for the surging Stanford squad was firing on all cylinders Saturday night, hitting for 49.3% overall and 55.6% in the first half, including 5-of-10 three-point shooting in the first half. Redshirt junior Chris Hernandez hit 6-of-7 in the first half, including a sizzling 4-of-4 from behind the arc, for 17 points. Junior Matt Haryasz matched with 6-of-7 shooting as well, scoring 13 points while grabbing 11 boards. The pair combined to outscore Oregon in the first half, 30-25. Hernandez hit just one of his four attempts in the second half, missing all three of his shots from deep, to finish with 19. Haryasz continued to crush the Ducks on the glass, grabbing another nine rebounds and scoring another seven points to bring his game totals to 20 and 20.
It was the first 20-20 game for a Stanford player since Tim Young pulled down 21 boards and scored 20 points in an overtime victory against Oregon back on January 16, 1997. The 20 points is a career-high for Haryasz, edging the 19 he scored last year in Eugene against the Ducks. The 20 rebounds shatters his previous career high of 11, which he recorded twice this year - in the season opener against USF and Thursday night against Oregon State. Though the 20-20 club is one of the very rare and elite in college basketball, the 20-rebound mark is itself a noteworthy achievement. It has been three years since a Cardinal reached that figure on the boards; Curtis Borchardt did it twice in the 2001-02 season. Haryasz is just the 12th Stanford player in school history to snare 20 rebounds in a single game.
The 6'11" junior forward/center has revved his game up several notches the past couple weeks. He has recorded three double-doubles in his last four games, averaging 16.3 points and 12.3 rebounds over that stretch.
"He's been getting better," says Johnson of Haryasz. "The ball is going down for him."
And the reason for the rebounding surge from the junior big man? "Concentrated effort," Johnson offers. "He's constantly pursuing the ball. Don't assume Nick [Robinson] or Rob [Little] will get it. Go after every rebound."
That was indeed the picture of Matt Haryasz this evening. He was doing more than outjumping his opponents to get to the ball. He was leaping from out of nowhere, on many occasions, to explode to the ball. Haryasz looked like a man possessed, at one time grabbing 10 consecutive defensive rebounds for Stanford.
"I think any time you have your entire team out there like we did tonight, you're going to have a lot of fun," the junior notes.
The 20-20 performance was the first for Haryasz at any level. Though he was a dominating force in Arizona high school basketball, he says he never had a night quite like this.
"It's really pretty special for me, and I'm really excited," he beams about the accomplishment. "Sometimes it's luck, though - a ball just tips your way. I just made a real conscious effort to get to the boards tonight."
One quiet statistic behind the 20-rebound performance for Haryasz was the 39 missed field goals by Oregon. They shot 37.9% in the first half and 42.6% for the game. There were abundant opportunities for the Cardinal to corral defensive rebounds because of Stanford's defense. It is true that the Card capitalized better on the boards than they have in recent weeks - they outrebounded their opponent tonight (46-34) for the first time in their six-game winning streak. Oregon game into this week #3 in the conference in shooting percentage and #5 in rebounding margin.
"Offense will come, and different guys will step up, but everything starts with defense for us," comments junior Dan Grunfeld, who finished with a quiet 14 points on 6-of-14 shooting.
"That's all predicated upon how we defend," Johnson echoes. "Defense gives you opportunities."
The rebounding and defense indeed did spark much of Stanford's dominance this night. Take the opening minutes of the first half, for example, when the Cardinal set the tone for the game. In a sequence of three straight possessions before the first media timeout, Stanford scorched the Ducks for seven quick points. The Card already led 8-2, but soon were up 15-5 and forced Ernie Kent to burn a timeout before the first media stoppage. The first of the three consecutive scores came on a missed Bryce Taylor three-point shot, with Haryasz leaping to the ball and quickly passing off to Hernandez. The redshirt junior point guard brought the ball up the floor while Haryasz trailed, and then at the top of the key, Hernandez stopped and handed the ball off to his charging 6'11" teammate. Haryasz continued toward the basket for a lightning-quick lay-up that stunned the Ducks. Hernandez stopped and popped a three-pointer over Taylor the next trip down the floor. The third possession started like the first, with Haryasz grabbing a defensive board and making the quick outlet to Hernandez. Haryasz was again the last man down the floor, and Hernandez passed to him again at the top of the circle. This time, the soft-shooting big man pulled up for an 18-foot jumper as soon as he caught the ball, which went straight down.
That dandy duo did damage to the Ducks all night, and it was a nauseating case of déjà vu for Oregon. Almost a year ago to the date, Hernandez and Haryasz teamed up in a heart-stopping performance where they carried the Cardinal on their backs in a fabled comeback from 19 points down in the second half at MacArthur Court on January 31, 2004. The sophomore pair combined in that game for 41 points in a truly heroic effort. Now juniors, the inside-outside combination collected 39 points.
"Certain guys have certain teams they play well against," said a befuddled Ernie Kent about the repeat effort by Haryasz and Hernandez. "We're going to have to make big adjustments against teams like Washington and Stanford before we face them next time."
Both Hernandez and Haryasz shrugged their shoulders and looked to each other for answers afterward when asked about what Oregon seems to give them to allow for these kinds of performances.
"I'm just following Chris' lead," Haryasz finally offers with a grin.
"I just kept giving it to him in the post because they were not fronting him," Hernandez notes on Oregon's defense of Haryasz. "Jut keep dishing it to him."
One difference between the near-loss last January in Eugene when the dynamic duo went off and this blowout 88-69 win was the depth of contributions from teammates. In Stanford's previous three wins, the entire Cardinal bench averaged a mere three total points. In the Oregon State game Thursday night, the bench combined for zero scoring. In the dissection of the Ducks, Stanford got a big 19 points from their reserves. That total outstrips the combined production from Stanford's bench in their previous four games.
Four starters still had to play 30 minutes or more, however, as the thin bench can only provide so many reserve minutes.
"We're not that deep on the bench, so we're kind of forced to play," says Hernandez, who led all Stanford players with 32 minutes.
Freshmen Taj Finger and Peter Prowitt combined for 23 minutes and six points. Finger scored a basket and added 2-of-2 free throws, but his greatest moment was one that was wiped away by the officials. The frosh forward had a fast-break transition opportunity for an uncontested dunk but was called for traveling between when he caught the outlet pass and when he put the ball on the floor. Prowitt scored two points, but his presence on the court and 15 big minutes was cause for celebration in of itself, after he just days ago badly sprained his ankle and missed Thursday's Oregon State game.
Junior Jason Haas is the one bench player who has been logging major minutes this month, and he played 18 against Oregon with another solid game. The point guard recorded three assists versus just one turnover, while scoring five points on 2-of-4 shooting.
But the most exciting effort off the bench goes to sophomore Fred Washington, who has been suffering through a difficult year of scant minutes, frequent fouls and too many turnovers. Against the Ducks, however, the Stanford wing looked loose and had his best production of the year. Washington recorded season highs with eight points and five rebounds, including three offensive boards. He opportunistic defender also added a trademark steal-and-score ending in a transition throw-down that lit up the home crowd. More than just window dressing, there is hope that this kind of performance could ignite a turnaround for Washington. Stanford badly needs better production from him and the bench if they hope to continue their charge toward a top Pac-10 finish and a post-season berth.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our website, as well as our full-length feature articles in our glossy magazine. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up) and The Bootleg Magazine (sign-up)!