Card Win Ugly Over Ducklings

It wasn't pretty, but Stanford long ago got past style points in its goals for this season. The Cardinal edged Oregon Saturday, 58-56, in a critical road win that buoyed their NCAA Tournament résumé. Last year in Eugene it was the <b>Chris Hernandez</b> and <b>Matt Haryasz</b> show, but only half that tandem had success shooting the ball this go-around...

This was the nightmare scenario that Cardinalmaniacs™ have been dreading the last couple weeks.  With a depleted roster at its manpower nadir for the season, Stanford can ill afford to suffer foul trouble and it cannot endure off games by many starters.  The Cardinal found both in spades in Eugene (Ore.) Saturday, on the road at McArthur Court, one of the time-tested toughest environments in the Pac-10.  Stanford was stuck with foul trouble throughout the game, including four players picking up two fouls each in the first half, and their leading active scorer floundered with an ice cold shooting stretch over the final 34 minutes of the game.  To make matters worse, Stanford had one of its worst rebounding games in years.

The fact that the Card collected a win in that mess, edging Oregon 58-56 in the final minute, is a miracle.  You could also say it is a testament to the toughness of this Stanford squad, but that is not breaking news at this point in the season.  While the victory was as ugly as they come, the road win garnered crucial RPI points for a Stanford team still sweating the fabled "bubble" in NCAA Tournament brackets being prognosticated by every media outlet in the country.  The Cardinal also held onto their one-game lead over UCLA for third place in the Pac-10, which is at the least a symbolic advantage over the Bruins in a conference that could max out at three NCAA bids.

The game did not start pretty for either team at Mac Court, but Stanford took solace in their early 14-2 lead.  They held the Ducks scoreless through the first media timeout and allowed just a pair of free throws.  Oregon did not muster their first field goal until nearly eight minutes elapsed in the game.  Sharpshooting Chris Hernandez got off on the right foot, with the redshirt junior point guard connecting for two of his first three three-point attempts in the early going.

But a third of the way through the first half, the Card began to crumble.  At the 13:46 mark in the opening stanza, sophomore small forward Fred Washington picked up his second foul and went to the bench for the remainder of the half.  At 8:14, senior center Rob Little picked up his second whistle and joined Washington on the pine.  Little was replaced by freshman Peter Prowitt, but the reserve foul-machine earned two quick fouls within his first three minutes.  He, too, retired to the bench, forcing Stanford to the play the last five-plus minutes of the half without either of their centers in the game, and that was a the last thing Trent Johnson wanted to do while his Card were getting badly beaten on the boards.  Stanford went to a small lineup with junior Matt Haryasz sliding into the center position, but he earned his second foul at the 2:30 mark.

If you have not looked at the roster lately and done the math, the Cardinal are playing the remainder of this season with eight warm bodies.  A ninth, freshman walk-on Kenny Brown, could be available for emergency duty in the backcourt, and this was the first time where Stanford could have arguably used him this year and burned his redshirt.  Four of Stanford's eight active players had two fouls in the first half, which forced the Card to play at least one man in foul trouble for the final two and a half minutes before halftime.  Trent Johnson employed an offense-defense substitution pattern, where Prowitt played during defensive possessions, and Haryasz took the floor on offense.  The fact that Stanford's foul trouble was concentrated in the frontcourt kept the Card from calling on Brown.

That is not to say that the backcourt was a happy story for Stanford.  With Washington's quick exit, fifth-year senior Nick Robinson was forced to play the last two-thirds of the half at the small forward, pulling junior Jason Haas into the backcourt alongside Hernandez.  That backcourt combined to shoot 0-of-9 after Haas substituted for Washington, including an ice cold 0-of-7 spell for Hernandez.  Hernandez did find his way to the free throw line to contribute in the scoring column, and he was a perfect 10-of-10 at the charity stripe for the game.  But he never made a field goal in the final 34-plus minutes of the game after his 2-of-3 early start.

Stanford was getting bruised on the boards and could find almost no scoring power after that 14-2 start.  The Cardinal went a stretch of six minutes without a field goal.  Incredibly, Oregon took little advantage of the foul-burden, rebound-challenged, scoring-bereft visiting Card.  When Stanford next found the bottom of the net from the field, it was a running short jumper by Robinson.  A minute later, Stanford was lifted again by Robinson, with an improbable three-point bucket - he came to Eugene shooting just 23.8% outside the arc on the year.  The crafty fifth-year senior proved invaluable to Stanford down the stretch in this tough game, hitting two more three-pointers in the second half.  Robinson was the only Cardinal player to hit any three-point shot after Hernandez' early pair.

Stanford's first-half shooting was a woeful 30.0% and they were beaten 24-16 on the boards, but the Cardinal never trailed in the first half.  Though Oregon surged midway through the half on the back of some positive plays and a rising homecourt court energy, they had their own problems with 26.9% shooting and 11 first half turnovers.

The Ducks elevated their offense in the second half, hitting eight of their first 11 shots.  Meanwhile, Stanford continued their difficulties, losing the second-half battle on the boards by a 17-10 margin and finding more foul trouble.  Little picked up his third foul at the 16:47 mark and then quickly drew a fourth whistle seconds later.  He hit the bench and did not return until the final minutes of the game.  Little would play just 16 minutes in the game.  Late in the half, Washington picked up his third and fourth fouls, eventually fouling out.

Oregon soon surged to their first lead of the game, which they grew twice to as many as eight points.  Though Little gave little to help Stanford on Saturday, his frontcourt starting mate came through in the clutch.  Haryasz came alive in the second half, aggressively attacking the basket.  He played 19 minutes and was a perfect 4-of-4 from the floor, plus 2-of-2 from the free throw line.  The junior big man reprised his role of Duck killer, after scoring a combined 39 points in his last two games against Oregon.  On this day, he provided key offense and energy in the second half, including a 4-0 individual scoring run that made the first dent in the eight-point deficit.  His first two of those points came at the free throw line; the next pair came on a dribble-drive from the top of the key that blew through Oregon's post defense.  Robinson followed on Stanford's next possession with a wide-open three-point basket that brought the Card to within three points.  The two teams traded a pair of points each before Robinson added his second trey of the second half from the same spot on the floor as his first, tying the game at 48 at the 8:52 mark.

Stanford had survived the storm, and they never trailed by more than one basket for the final eight-plus minutes of the game.  Haryasz scored Stanford's next basket with a short bank shot, to put the Cardinal down just one at 50-51.  The only other basket for Stanford in the next seven minutes came from Washington after he grabbed a long offensive rebound off a Hernandez three-point miss.  The sophomore wing immediately attacked the basket for a quick lay-in that tied the game again, 52-52.

Both teams struggled to score in the final minutes, with Stanford going five-plus minutes without a field goal and Oregon going the final 3:39 without any points.  The Cardinal managed to manufacture points at the free throw line to stay afloat, however.  Hernandez tied the game again at 54-all when he was fouled off a high screen, but Stanford could not grab the lead.  They were chasing Aaron Brooks, who had a terrible first half (0-of-5 from the field, three turnovers) but came alive in the second stanza.  The sophomore Oregon guard scored 13 points after halftime, including six of the Ducks' last seven - three times breaking ties to give Oregon the lead.  Brooks drove the length of the floor in transition for his team's final basket of the day, and a minute later he pushed Oregon ahead again on free throws - both plays beating Fred Washington.

But those were the last scoring tallies for Brooks and Oregon in the game.  It was Brooks who committed a critical foul with 71 seconds left in the game, chasing down a rebound and shoving Jason Haas to try and get there.  Haas had played 23 minutes thus far in the game without any points, but he coolly converted both free throw attempts to tie the game at 56-56.  Stanford was staring down the possibility of an overtime in a hostile arena, with foul trouble heavily weighing against them.

Oregon had their chance to answer, and again Brooks took over for the Ducks.  But he again committed an offensive foul, this time putting his forearm into Haas' chest on an attempted drive with 39.3 seconds to go.  Stanford had the chance to take the lead with only four seconds separating the shot and game clock, and Haryasz was the hero.  He initiated an attack from the top of the key, easily taking Ray Schafer off the dribble and drawing a double-team from Maarty Leunen.  Haryasz had a few possessions prior drawn a charging call when he went over an Oregon defender attacking the basket, so this time he pulled up from mid-range and hit a soft jumper that rolled around the iron before going in.  Stanford had its first lead since the opening three minutes of the half, with just 14.1 seconds left in the game.

Brooks continued his control of Oregon's fortunes, taking the Ducks' next shot, which missed from three-point range.  Oregon had a chance on a Malik Hairston offensive rebound putback, but that missed before Hernandez grabbed the rebound.  He was quickly tied up, and Oregon had the possession arrow for one more chance.  With 1.9 seconds to go, Hairston hoisted up a final three-point attempt at the buzzer that missed.

It was one of the ugliest games Stanford has won this year, but with how disadvantaged the Cardinal are right now, it is hard to call any win anything other than beautiful.  They lost the battle on the boards by a 15-rebound margin, and they shot just 35.4% from the field.  Hernandez finished with 16 points but a painful 2-of-13 shooting, missing his last 10 straight shots.  But the Cardinal converted 19-of-23 at the free throw line, and that ultimately carried them to the tight victory.  Haryasz was a strong 6-of-9 from the field for his game-high 18 points, while Robinson shot 3-of-4 from deep toward his 11 points.  This was the first time in Robinson's college career that he hit three three-pointers in a game.  He previously had a high of two treys only thrice.

Stanford now moves to 10-6 in Pac-10 play and 16-10 overall.  They would be more comfortable in their NCAA Tournament chances with two more wins, but this road win at Oregon was a big step for their postseason fortunes.  The Cardinal will play their final two regular season games at home next week against Washington State and Washington.

Complete game box score

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