Redefining 'Tough'

With all the adversity and criticism facing this team, plus the mounting injuries that came at McKale, it's nothing short of marvelous to see what Stanford put forward Thursday night. The combination of emotional toughness, physical toughness and mental toughness was a smothering force that is as impressive as anything I've seen in recent years from this program.

I think some of the knocks on this year's team took a step back last night. While there have been more down moments, and more erratic play from this team than we've seen from Stanford in several years, they showed in their biggest game of the year what they do have in them:

Glendora High - I think the single most encouraging note from this game is what Stanford showed it can do without Casey Jacobsen. He was literally absent for a stretch of 9 minutes at the end of the first half and start of the second half, in the locker room taking stitches over his eye. When he returned, the offense didn't flow through him as it often does, but the Card didn't miss a beat. In a game where he took just seven field goal attempts, drove to the basket to draw just two free throws, and hit less than 10% of the team's buckets... Stanford won its biggest game of the year. Compare to his role of late, where he has averaged over 18 field goal attempts, almost 9 free throws and led the team in scoring 75% of the time - all in the last four weeks. To put this in perspective, the last time Casey Jakes scored 6 or fewer points was the infamous North Carolina loss in Birmingham two years ago, when he had just 5 points. This team came up big even when Casey couldn't. When you look over the results this year, Stanford has lost games when Mighty Casey has gone crazy or cold, but also won games now with or without him.

Playing tough - See below for detailed stats and recounting of the incredible second half this team played, as exemplified through both rebounding and defense. But for a team that has lacked appartent leadership and intestinal fortitude, Thursday's game was one of the gutsiest games you'll ever see. Chris Hernandez plays for over a week now with a separated shoulder and heavy wrapping, still smarting from the dives and knocks he took late last Saturday against UCLA. But he delivers a huge stretch of quality minutes in the middle of the second half, including a huge charge he drew from Gardner. Julius Barnes turns his ankle just 84 seconds into the game, and limps badly around the court for the remainder. Yet he logs 23 grueling minutes of tough defense and clutch jump shooting. He, too, takes a crucial charge late in the game, and made a pair of other defensive stops against the Arizona transition that took away sure points. His 13 points and 5 boards were both second best for Stanford. Amazing stuff. Justin Davis steps up to play through the pain in his shoulder and his ribs to help his team in its greatest moment of need. He had to wear a flak jacket and looked like the second coming of the Michelin Man, but somehow still found the grit and adrenaline to grab the toughest rebounds in the stretch run of the second half. Casey couldn't deliver his normal points, but he came back to the game after being bloodied over his right eye, wearing a badge of honor. His three-pointer was big, but maybe more important was the leadership in the huddle he showed in that second half. The box doesn't show it, but he still felt like an All-American with his example and leadership last night. Though all hurt, these guys pushed every minute humanly possible for their team last night. It was truly inspirational.

Playing defense - The 37.7% shooting that Stanford held Arizona to last night was the lowest the Cats have seen all year in the Pac-10. You might be surprised at how much lower that was compared to the FG% that Zona shot even in their losses at the LA schools the other week. Heck, even when they were obliterated by thirty up at Mac Court, Arizona still shot over 40%. The only other teams this entire season to keep Lute's lackeys under 40% were Michigan State (who the Card defeated), Illinois and Kansas. Those games all came in December. To hold the #2 scoring offense in the conference, who had been averaging 47.5% from the field, to this kind of night is pretty awesome. You may actually be surprised to see that after last night's game, Stanford is now #2 in the conference in field goal percentage defense, and gaining on kal. The Berzerkeley Bears have held opponents to .418 shooting this conference season, while Stanford has held foes to a .420 clip. Jason Gardner did go for a career high of 33 points in the game, but the defense shut down all other scorers. It surely worked. Note the 9 of 32 shooting from the other four Arizona starters, including a smothering defensive performance by Julius Barnes and Casey Jacobsen against Salim Stoudamire. Salim killed Stanford in Maples, but shot just 1 for 11 last night.

Big play from the "4" - Justin Davis has been particularly maligned on the HoopsBoard this season, mercilessly in the past couple of weeks. But he was arguably the MVP in this win, with the most crucial rebounds on both ends of the court when he played through much of the second half. He exited in the final minutes to keep away from the free throw line, but a glance at my defensive/rebounding play-by-play below tells the tale of his contributions. To do it all while hurt the way he is... wow. I think it is now painfully clear how much he can mean to this team, regardless of his box score stats, and equally clear to all how much he was missed in last week's losses to the LA schools at home. All told, Justin and Teyo combined for 9 points and 9 boards in 31 minutes.

Game coaching - I thought this was one of the best games for Monty all year. It showed more than ever in the preparation he and the staff did this week, with a sound game plan that never let Arizona make a run or pull out a surprise wrinkle. The substitution pattern was his greatest achievement, though, as he balanced a team battling a lot of injuries and ever-increasing foul trouble. With the possible exception of inserting Teyo late in the game, every substition looked to provide some tangible positive play on the floor. And for the second straight game, he let guys really play. Shots were missed, and turnovers still came, but he didn't yank guys. Finally, an honest-to-god effective zone was played for extended minutes in this game, and it deserves a chunk of the credit for stymying the Arizona offense.

You may look at the box score for this game and see just two guys for Stanford that came up big. That's because we're all so ingrained in the practice of moving our eyes to the point totals. However, there isn't a lucid Cardinalmaniac who can come away from Thursday night's Cat declawing without being impressed by the entire Stanford cast. Here are some well-deserved kudos to some kids who won't show up in the paper or on SportsCenter

  • Matt Lottich saw just seven minutes of the game, but he put down two huge baskets during that span in the first half. Both of them showed good smarts against Arizona's yo-yo zone, which left him open. He hit one stand-still three, and then gave a ball-fake to Isaiah Fox on the next possession, to take him off the dribble and pull up for the midrange baseline jumper. Both really impressed me. A minute or so later, he showed he could drive the lane, where he drew the defense and then dished to Joe Kirchofer for the easy deuce under the basket.
  • Josh Childress logged a lot of minutes with Julius and Casey both hurt, and I thought he delivered a really solid game. Defensively, he had an early blocked shot (jump ball possession to Stanford), three huge steals and two huge rebounds. He was really active and a big part of the defensive success. Where he picked up his fouls was the offensive end, and I'm starting to note a tendency of his. When Stanford players miss close shots off the glass, he flies in for the rebound and often gets the foul on an opposing defender - a hack or over the back call. That's something very fixable and reflective of a freshman. He had two big buckets - one as he attacked the basket in open space and showed off that rusty explosiveness; the other a clutch three that broke a 47-47 tie in the second half.
  • Tony Giovacchini had a tough night shooting, 0 for 5 from the field and most missing badly. But he was the guy Monty played for the final 8:14 of the game. He played good defense down the stretch, helped keep the team together, and sank two clutch free throws.
  • Casey for once won't get credit for some stats. Though the offense didn't flow through him, he was big on the boards and distributing the ball. He tied for second behind Curtis with five rebounds, and had a game-high seven assists. The last time he had that many dishes was against Portland State way back when.
  • Joe Kirchofer was needed for just four minutes, but did you realize he had four points during that span? See the Lottich assist above for his field goal, while his other two came off free throws. That compares pretty favorably to the combined 6 points in 49 minutes by Channing Frye, Isaiah Fox and Dennis Latimore.

Stanford's biggest lead of the game was the 6-0 lead they took out of the gate with Julius' and Teyo's early treys. Stanford also led by 6 early in the second half at 47-41.

Arizona's biggest lead of the game also came early, at 12-8.

There were plenty of ties in this game, but the momentum clearly shifted from the first half to the second. Arizona led for 10:32 in the first half, but had an advantage for just 22 seconds in the entire second half. Very refreshing after seeing momentum swing in a big way to U$C and UCLA around halftime last week. Very inspiring for a downtrodden team playing at the toughest locale for Monty's men in the last decade-plus.

The rebounding picked up in that second half and provided a big lift on both ends to the Card. After being outrebounded 13 to 23 in the first half (4 to 9 on the offensive boards), Stanford outrebounded the Mildcats 25 to 11 in the second half (6 to 2 on the offensive boards).

The same can be said for the defensive toughness. After allowing Arizona to shoot 13 of 29 in the first half for 44.8% from the field, the clamps came down in the second stanza. Stanford allowed just seven field goals in the entire second half for the Kittens on 29.2% shooting (and 28.6% from three-point range).

If you're wondering why the good guys didn't completely clobber the Cats with these second half numbers, look no further than the turnover column. Stanford turned it over 12 times in those final 20 minutes, as compared to Arizona's 6.

Justin Davis pulled down all five of his rebounds in the second half.

Curtis Borchardt was the offensive backbone of the second half surge, scoring 18 points after halftime. Interestingly, they came in clusters. He scored 4 points on back-to-back possessions early in the half in a span of just 26 seconds. He scored another quick pair of field goals midway through the half in a span of 35 seconds. And his final 10 points all came in the final 1:43, including 8 inside the final minute.

C-Bo's 28 points fell just one short of his career high of 29, set at Oregon. Mac Court and McKale for your top two career games? Wow.

This game breaks Casey's 15-game streak of double-digit scoring games. If you were worried about hurting his scoring average, the 6 points only lowered his average from 22.6 to 22.0 per game.

We hear about Luke Walton wanting to give credit to his teammates, but is his play hammering home that point a little too much down the stretch? In his last two games, a disasterous near-loss to the Solar Satans at home last week and last night's loss to Stanford at home, he has totaled 8 for 23 shooting from the field, 0 for 4 shooting outside the arc, 6 for 15 shooting from the stripe, seven fouls, 15 turnovers (!!!) and one fight. Yeesh. Improvement isn't looking easy with the conference's top defensive squad coming to town on Saturday to close out the regular season campaign.

As tense as this game was down the stretch, the fact is that Stanford led for the last 10:50 of the game. Arizona never even tied the Card after Stanford took a 54-53 lead on a Casey Jacobsen free throw at that mark. Stanford held that lead in large part due to some incredibly gutsy defense and rebounding. Over the final 11 minutes and change, a highlight film of grit and pure hustle played out:

  • 11:03 - Off a Casey Jacobsen miss off the front iron, Jason Gardner grabbed the rebound and raced down the court for a sure score. Chris Hernandez backpedalled and kept his body in front of Gardner, drawing the improbable but deserved offensive foul.
  • 10:28 - Josh Childress misses a three hard off the back iron, with a trajectory headed right into the heads of Salim Stoudamire at the free throw line. Casey Jacobsen raced from the opposite side of the court outside the arc as soon as the shot left J-Chill's arms, though. That break gave him just enough time to charge and leap out and barely get a hand on the ball in front of Salim. The deflected ball goes through Jason Gardner's unsuspecting arms and out of bounds, retaining possession for Stanford. Stanford is able to squeeze a point out of the possession on a Justin Davis free throw, as well as a fourth foul on Ricky Anderson.
  • 9:50 - Stoudamire drives the lane with Chris on his hip and pulls up for the running jumper. Hernandez gets his hand up just to his left and his side, while Curtis Borchardt charges from in front to drastically alter the shot. It takes a high arc and glances off the front and side of the rim. Justin Davis times his jump to grab the rebound away from Isaiah Fox, who had just pushed Justin to gain position under the hoop.
  • 9:28 - Luke Walton attempts the pass in to the low post to Channing Frye, but Curtis gets a hand out in front to deflect it toward the corner. Justin charges to grab it just inside the corner of the court, and then pivots while holding his balance. Still leaning out of bounds, he passes it to Jacobsen under the hoop to start the offensive possession.
  • 8:15 - After a nice defensive stand where Josh and Casey helped seal Luke Walton in an attempted drive on the baseline, the ball reversed and found its way into Dennis Latimore's hands. Latimore pulled up for the baseline mini-jumper, but had no chance with Justin and Curtis by him. As Curtis bent down and started to spring up for the rejection, Justin lept from the side and blocked it as it was barely leaving Latimore's hands.
  • 6:41 - Julius Barnes shot an open three that fell short, then ricocheted off the backboard. Justin Davis had the inside position on Isaiah Fox, but the ball was coming off a little strong from the rim. Justin utilized a combination of leaping, reach and athleticism that is found nowhere else on this team (perhaps save Josh Childress) to reach back and somehow pull down the board. One dribble and then he put it up high off the glass for two gi-normous points.
  • 6:14 - Stoudamire tries to take Julius off the dribble to his right. Just as he starts his jump-stop to take the shot near the baseline, Julius slaps the ball and knocks it free. Stoudamire is forced to reset the offense, passing out to Gardner with just 10 seconds on the shot clock. Tony is defending Gardner, so Jason tries (again) his junk move to leap into his defender while half-shooting, in hope of a foul. The refs don't bite, and the ugly ball comes off the back rim. Curtis just gets a hand on the rebound, which was falling to Channing Frye. Tony Giovacchini saves the ball as it is about to land out of bounds, and performs his only balancing act on one leg before passing away to C-Bo.
  • 5:04 - Casey drives all the way around the key, an increasingly popular move for him, and to the basket, but his shot comes hard and high off the glass. Justin Davis bats the ball up and away from the Arizona defenders, where Curtis is able to grab it and start a new set.
  • 4:25 - An errant pass from Casey is deflected high into the air by Salim Stoudamire, which he catches with a clear lane to the basket on the other end. This was the most automatic transition points of the game, but Julius Barnes ran from the other sideline on his one good ankle to somehow get to Salim. A swipe down at the ball as Salim hit his jump-stop took him off-balance and induced him to put the lay-in on the underside of the rim. Justin Davis grabbed the rebound tip-toeing on the endline, then passing to Julius for an improbable reversal for Stanford's own transition break.
  • 3:29 - Julius makes a rare drive at the basket with his bum ankle, but the finger roll just comes off the back of the rim. Justin gets a hand on the rebound, which then heads to Stoudamire. But Justin stretches out his other hand to bat it back toward the endline. Ricky Anderson tries to grab the ball but hits the underside of the backboard support frame. That gives the ball to Stanford under the basket with a fresh shot clock.
  • 3:01 - On that same possession, Stanford runs some clock before Julius takes a three at the top of the arc. It rattles in and out, where Justin grabs yet another offensive board. The Card reset the offense and run even more clock.
  • 2:04 - Leading by just two, Stanford is in a 2-3 zone that executes perfectly. Arizona rotates the ball but can't find any space to shoot, or any seem to drive. Gardner dribbles into the corner, where Casey extends his arms and traps him. With 3 seconds on the shot clock, Zona takes a time out. But they still get the shot clock violation after the break, when they fail to reach the rim. A huge defensive stop with only two minutes left in the game.
  • 1:50 - Justin Davis has the ball on the offensive end, but is trapped by two defenders on the sideline. He reaches around and makes a great pass to find Curtis under the basket. Gardner gets an arm up and helps Curtis to miss high off the glass, but the incomparable C-Bo gets the offensive board with literally four Arizona defenders surrounding him. He leaps up and slams it home for a thunderous dunk and a four-point lead - maybe the back breaker of the game.
  • 1:23 - Luke Walton is camped out in the paint, which I count for a full five seconds on the game clock, but has a shot deep under the basket for a high percentage. Curtis goes for the block and gets the foul, forcing the ice-cold Dead Head descendant to the line. Sure enough, Luke misses one of the two free throws, and Stanford leads by three. Justin Davis unsurprisingly grabs the board.
  • 0:32 - After a thoughtless pass from Teyo turned the ball over at halfcourt, Arizona had the ball in the final minute with a chance to tie or take the lead. Ricky Anderson received a nice bounce pass from Gardner and had nothing but open sky in front of him for the dunk. But ol' One Leg (aka Julius Barnes) leapt up and delivered a beautiful block for the ages. The silver-haired faithful at McKale were beside themselves, sure a foul was committed. But the block was as clean as can be. JB just got some sick air and kept a lot of daylight between himself and Anderson's body. Tony grabbed the ball and was immediately fouled. His two clutch free throws extended the lead from two to four and sealed the game.
  • 0:12 - Still a four-point lead, Gardner races down the court to get a quick look at the basket. Tony fronts him and takes the charge, as Gardner finally started to pay for his game-long practice of pushing off the defender. It was a tough call late, but well overdue for the diminutive dandy from Indy.

In a wild night in the Pac-10, the tightest race in conference history got even tighter. Oregon took down USC on the road as Freddie Jones hit a running jumper as time expired, given the Ducks at least a share of the Pac-10 title. Kal beat ASU in Tempe as the Bears played big in the final minutes, keeping them just one game back of the Duckies. The SC loss, combined with UCLA's win (over OSU - surprisingly tight down the stretch) and Stanford's win over Arizona, puts exactly four teams tied for third place, one game behind Ben Braun's crew. That leaves a reasonable scenario whereby Saturday's final games could produce a finish with Oregon in first place and five teams tied for second place. Get ready to extend those tiebreakers to the max.

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