The story of this loss jumps right out from the box score, and is one of those times when stats don't lie. Stanford displayed one of the most restrained and strained offenses I can remember in recent Cardinal history, chucking up a jaw-dropping 42 3-pointers in the game. 28 of those treys came in the second half, during a time when the game really slipped away. Stanford had an innumerable stretch of possessions where the offense consisted solely of rotating the ball around the horn until someone got an open (or semi-open) look behind the arc. It represents unfortunately a continuing trend in this offense, which has seen less and less creating and penetration in recent weeks. In this game, seven Stanford players put up 50% or more of their shots from outside the arc. Yikes. As much that went wrong with every aspect of Stanford's game Thursday night against U$C, the offensive macro-hibernation in the early-to-middle part of the second half had the feel of an out-of-body experience. It was mind-blowing and represents the most harmless Stanford offensive "plan of attack" I've seen since Brevin arrived on the Farm.
The path of the first 35 minutes aren't very remarkable. UCLA held a 6-11 point lead through the middle third of the game, energized when Curtis Borchardt sat out the final four-plus with two fouls, and aided by a technical foul on Mike Montgomery at halftime. The 49-40 lead opened to 51-40 to start the second half, without any time elapsing. Then Stanford started chucking threes on seemingly every possession, while UCLA slowly but steadily grew their lead. UCLA led 75-55 with 5:03 to go in the game before Stanford came out of their cocoon. Chris Hernandez treys, plus full-court pressure from Stanford, chipped away at the lead in a very long final five. The Card couldn't keep close the gap and match UCLA's points, mostly on free throws, as the home team lost 95-92 on senior day. The more germane margin was six points, as Julius Barnes banked home a three-pointer at the buzzer with no hope of getting another Stanford possession and points. Still, the fight to the finish was something to behold.
I did walk away from this game with a very different and important attitude about Stanford basketball's remaining 2002 prospects, as opposed to the carnage wrought in the $C game. Stanford snapped out of its funk in the final minutes of the game, and make a spirited and genuine fight to come back against the Bruins. Those who left the game early deserved to miss the Cardiac Card's efforts. Screw 'em! But Stanford closed a 20-point gap with just 5 minutes to go down to as close as 5, with chances to cut even deeper into the UCLA lead. More on the black&white barrier that helped prohibit that, later. But I did honestly have my spirits lifted with the effort put forth down the stretch. I saw Stanford spin out of control Thursday night with no resurrection. Late and meaningless points were scored, but nothing changed in Stanford's demeanor on offense. On this day, Stanford moved the ball up the floor with renewed passion and vigor, with a host of players attacking the defense for free throws, inside shots, or dishes to perimeter shooters. That was an offensive attack, and it showed viable hope and reason that the funk may be behind this team. Just maybe... But I don't write this in a desperate effort of homerism, to find the non-existent silver lining. I believe a real change occurred. As disheartening as the offensive feces-fest was through much of the game, the transition and invigoration I saw with Chris, Julius, Casey, Teyo and Curtis makes me believe Stanford can play ball in the desert next week. I really do. Unfortunately, I think the pain of this week's games and subterranean offensive performances has taken a serious toll on this team. I'm not sure they have yet been able take this positive out of the finish of this game. The post-game experience wasn't pretty at Maples. The collective mood and individual dispositions were grim.
I do want to give all kinds of credit to UCLA, though. They came into the game with zero depth behind their starting frontcourt, with possibly even greater strife and mental erosion than Stanford. Their most aggressive offensive player in Matt Barnes was in street clothes behind the bench, and the play of their freshmen emoted no confidence. But UCLA played a very effective zone defense, that collapsed with two or three men on Curtis whenever he touched the ball inside, completely eradicating Stanford's game in the low post. They hustled and better timed their rebounds on both ends of the court, a statistic where they dominated through the key parts of the game. Dan Gadzuric, their resident "space alien" and career head case, played like the more dominant big man in the stretches where UCLA built as much as a 20-point lead. Their greatly heralded, but notoriously underachieving freshmen played like champions today. When Stanford played tough half-court defense and took the shot clock down to the low single digits, Dijon Thompson and Andre Patterson hit a myriad of tough perimeter shots that stuck like daggers in the Cardinal. Jason Kapono hit some key shots as well, though I will intentionally reserve any praise for him. It was incredibly obvious to this observer, and many others around me at Maples, that Artesia's famed Olivia Newton-John wannabe spent most of his 39 minutes pushing and yanking his way to open space or loose ball rebounds. He played like a chump and not a champ today, and it is a crime that his fourth foul was only called in the waning moments of regulation. I was underwhelmed, and have little question that Kapono struggles to cleanly create shots or plays. I'm sure he isn't a top five player in the conference, and questionable for the top ten. My most sincere kudos to Gadzooks, who I've ridden mercilessly these past four years, as well as the frosh who stepped up today. That includes Cedric Bozeman, who took advantage of defensive mismatches when he could, and shot an effective 5 of 7 in the game. Final kudos to Billy Knight, who stumbled early on free throws, but hit (I believe) six in a row down the stretch to hold off the Cardinal's furious comeback bid. I'd be more positive on Knight, the perennial Card-Killer, if it weren't for some ugly physical play late in the game.
For the game, the steady UCLA squad shot 58.2%. Most of that came inside or from mid-range, though they did nail 7 of their 10 shots from deep. Nicely done, guys.
Stanford instead shot 36.8% for the game, including just 33.3% from three-point land. Before hitting on a tear in the final five minutes, Stanford was shooting just 25.8% from outside.
The past two losses at Maples to UCLA have come with the Card holding #1 rankings, and have been half-laughed off as sacrifices to keep Lavin in Westwood. Wins in the big picture! But it's tough to say that today, as Stanford has every focus and energy directed inward at a team that is on the NCAA bubble for the first time since 1995 (or '96).
And while the game was played so poorly for such a long stretch, with so much at fault for the Cardinal, the hideous officiating deserves mention. UCLA played the better game, no question, and even made most of the right plays and free throws down the stretch to hold of the Stanford surge. Still, this was a ridiculously officiated game once again from Dave Libbey's crew, which is becoming one of the most brutal I've ever seen. He's left his mark in a very big and dark way on three Stanfor