Fans and experts alike thought Stanford needed to get a split this week with the Huskies and Cougars coming to town, to finish the regular season with an 11-7 record in the Pac-10 and a hold on third place. But few if any thought the Cardinal would get that split.
For the second time this year, Stanford played a stinker and lost to Washington State, only to bounce back and play a shockingly better game against a more talented and nationally heralded Washington squad. The Card came up just short in Seattle against the Huskies, losing a heartening 76-73 game on January 2, but on Saturday at Maples Pavilion, Stanford collected a victory over the #10-ranked team in the nation in the college basketball upset of the day, 77-67.
Though it was an unthinkable scenario, there is no question that Stanford got the better split against the Washington schools. The win over the Huskies gives the Cardinal their second win of the year over an RPI top 10 team - the first coming against Arizona - and those wins are a big boost to Stanford's NCAA Tournament résumé. The Card now are 6-4 in their last 10 games, and they are 4-4 against the RPI top 50. WarrenNolan.com is one of the more trusted references for replicating RPI computations, and they have Stanford #34 in the nation and a #8 seed in their projected bracket after Saturday's win.
Cardinal head coacfh Trent Johnson has heard the "bubble" talk for his team the last several weeks, including charges that without Dan Grunfeld, Stanford cannot survive as a worth NCAA Tournament team. Though he regularly deflects and downplays talk of RPI, projections and bracketology, Johnson took a rare public stand for his team after the regular season finale.
"If we're not automatically in the NCAA Tournament after a win of this caliber and a win over Arizona, with the non-conference schedule we played and all we've been through since I was hired, then something's wrong. Something is wrong."
Stanford still has to play in the Pac-10 Tournament next week in Los Angeles at the Staples Center, where they are the reigning champions, but the strength of this Washington win is so strong that they could lose their first round game and still almost assuredly garner an at-large berth to the Big Dance.
The pundits will tell you that Stanford slowed down the game in order to take the Huskies out of their high-tempo comfort zone. After all, Washington came into the game as the #2 scoring team in the nation, at 87.6 points per game. The Huskies have five times this year cleared the century mark, and they had averaged an eye-popping 96.3 points in their last three games before Saturday. For Stanford to win a 77-67 game, the talking heads will explain that the Cardinal employed a stereotypical grinding halfcourt game to take Washington out of their element. That was not at all the story on Saturday.
"No, we wanted to speed it up," says junior forward/center Matt Haryasz, who had a career-high 24 points and 10 rebounds in the win. "We got a lot of baskets in transition."
Over those three preceding games for Washington, when they scored 96.3 ppg, the Huskies took an average of 64 shots per game. At Maples Pavilion on Saturday, Washington put up 68 field goal attempts. They had averaged 23 three-point attempts during those three games, and Saturday they rifled 24 shots from outside the arc. There was no grinding of the tempo. Instead, the difference in this game was defense. The Cardinal held the Huskies in check with just 39.7% shooting from the field and 37.5% from three-point range, after Washington had hit at 54.2% and 55.1% clips, respectively, in their last three games.
"The key was getting back in transition," says fifth-year senior Nick Robinson of the decisive defensive effort. "And get a hand up in their faces - especially Nate Robinson and Tre Simmons. Those guys are great shooters, and we were able to contain them."
Robinson and Simmons came into the game shooting better than 41% and 43%, respectively, but they were held to a combined 33% (4-of-12) for the game. Simmons had hit 15 three-pointers in his last three games on 55.6% shooting, but he hit just 2-of-4 on Saturday.
But the Huskies came out hot early in the game, making six of their first nine attempts. Washington used an 11-1 run to take a 15-10 lead before Stanford made an adjustment. Johnson saw trouble with his team's ability to defend the running Huskies in Stanford's man defense, so he switched to a 2-3 zone defense after made-basket situations. When junior Jason Haas made free throws to bring the score to 15-12, the Cardinal set up in their zone and found immediately results. Redshirt junior Chris Hernandez snared a steal that led to a Nick Robinson driving lay-in. The game was soon tied at 15-15 before Simmons drained an open three-pointer in the corner. But the alternating Stanford defenses did their job and kept the Cardinal in the game, with the Huskies off kilter.
"The main thing for us was to change things on defense and keep them off balance," Johnson maintains.
Washington regained their balance later in the half, recording an 8-0 run to take control of the game at a 29-21 lead. The last basket of that stretch was Simmons' second three-pointer, though it would be his last. On the next Stanford possession, the Cardinal turned it over with a Haas pass that rifled through the hands of Nick Robinson and out of bounds. Senior Rob Little had blown a lay-up on the previous possession. Stanford's chances for this game, and for an 11th straight NCAA Tournament berth, looked dim.
With five minutes left in the half, the Cardinal defense turned it up a notch and helped fuel the Stanford offense. It started with a stop and Nick Robinson rebound, which he took up the floor on the break, dishing to Matt Haryasz for the finish. Next possession it was a Jason Haas rebound-and-run which added a pair of points, at the free throw line after picking up Bobby Jones' second foul of the half. Haas earlier forced Husky floor general Will Conroy into his second and third fouls, both on aggressive drives to the basket.
On Stanford's shorthanded roster this year, Jason Haas has been the one man most needed to pick up his offensive assertiveness. He had averaged just 2.5 field goal attempts per game and a total of 28 free throws in his 27 games. Against Washington, the reserve guard made repeated drives to the basket to force his offense. The Huskies were caught completely by surprise, and put Haas at the free throw line eight times in the first half, where he converted seven. Haas finished the game 13-of-14 at the charity stripe, with a career-high 18 points. His previous career best was half that total, scoring nine against Montana in December.
"Jason knows he has to take open shots - be aggressive. He knows that," Johnson comments. "Sometimes he's capable of getting it done, sometimes he's not capable of doing that. It's not a question of effort or competitiveness."
"I think he surprised Will Conroy by being aggressive," the coach adds.
"My mentality was: after Thursday night, we can't play any worse than this. The only way was up," Haas allows. "With three guys coming, someone needs to be productive, whether it's scoring or defense."
Haas scored half of Stanford's 14 points at the free throw line in the opening stanza, and they were a big lift toward the Cardinal's 31-29 halftime lead. Stanford finished the half on a 10-0 run, which they continued in the opening minutes of the second half to a 35-29 lead. Washington finally got back on the board with a Brandon Roy lay-up. That ended a scoreless stretch of eight and a half minutes for the Huskies, though they tied the game in the blink of an eye at 37-37 with a quick 6-2 run on a pair of three-point baskets. Washington scored again and led by as many as three points.
The Huskies enjoyed much of their success in their overall 11-2 run with a defensive twist of their own. Stanford was doing their damage attacking the basket, with only one made three-point basket in the first half, so Lorenzo Romar put Washington into a zone. The Card struggled to score against the zone defense, but Matt Haryasz answered with a pair of baskets. The first came as he cut behind the defense along the baseline and showed himself eight feet for the basket for a jumper. Stanford's next score came on a Fred Washington drive toward the basket, finishing with a dish to Haryasz for the flush.
The second score gave Stanford the lead back at 41-40, but it was lost on Washington's next trip down the floor when Hakeem Rollins posted up and scored over Haryasz. The Huskies stayed in their zone, and Stanford was in need of a perimeter score to break that zone. It came at the hands of Haas, who drained a three-pointer at the top of the circle. The Cardinal led again at 44-42 and never trailed or tied again. They hit more key jumpers, including a Nick Robinson 18-foot shot in the corner and a difficult leaning pull-up by Haas when he took Nate Robinson off the dribble. Haryasz drained an open baseline 10-footer next, giving Stanford their biggest lead of the game at 52-45.
The Huskies answered with two quick baskets to trim the lead to two, but Stanford stood resilient and stretched the lead again. The Cardinal scored 19 of their final 23 points at the free throw line, where they finished the game 33-of-40. Stanford enjoyed leads hovering around 10 points for most of the final two minutes, as Washington fouled frequently but did not pick up much on the offensive end.
When the final buzzer sounded, the Sixth Man Club rushed the floor in celebration. The win was not only a victory over a #10-ranked team, but it was obviously a fuel-injected boost to Stanford's NCAA Tournament chances. The game also sent off seniors Rob Little and Nick Robinson with a win. Little finished with just four points and four rebounds, while Robinson had one of his best games of the year. The fifth-year senior guard/forward was an inspired rebounder, picking up nine boards, and he showed excellent shot selection and judgment on offense. Robinson finished with 12 points on 5-of-8 shooting.
While Haas was the unmitigated surprise of the day with his aggression and 18 points, the dominant star for Stanford was Haryasz. He has been up and down with his shooting the last several games, but his execution was exquisite against the Huskies. The 6'11" junior converted at the basket and was hot shooting the ball from the field and the line. Haryasz finished the game 8-of-13 from the field and 7-of-8 from the stripe; he also made his only three-point attempt of the game.
- Stanford finishes the regular season with an unusual record against Pac-10 opponents. The Card swept the bottom three teams (Oregon, Cal and USC) 6-0. They also registered a strong 4-2 record against their three top opponents (Arizona, Washington, UCLA). But the middle of the pack has given them fits, with a 1-5 record against Oregon State, Arizona State and Washington State. Coming into Saturday, the Cardinal had scenarios where they would play either the Beavers, the Sun Devils or the Cougars in their first round game of the Pac-10 Tournament - the three teams they have had the least success against.
- Other games played out later on Saturday, setting the field for Staples this next week. The Cardinal are the #3 seed and will play the last of the first round games on Thursday, facing #6 seed Washington State. Stanford is 0-2 against the Cougars, and they are anxious for the rematch. Nick Robinson declared after Saturday's win that the Card actually match up better with the Cougs than with the Huskies, despite the disparate results in the games this year. We'll see soon enough...
- Matt Haryasz continues his doublicious deeds, recording his ninth double-double in points and rebounding in his last 12 games. He is averaging 17.0 points and 10.7 boards over his last dozen games. His 24 points Saturday gave him a new career high, just edging the 23 he scored last month against USC. Haryasz has scored 20 or more points three times this year, and all of those games have come at Maples Pavilion.
- This was the first time in a month that a team has held the Huskies under 40% shooting from the field. The last team to do so was UCLA on February 5, though the Bruins lost that game, 82-70.
- This was first loss all year for Washington where their opponent scored under 90 points.
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