Though some of the details have varied through Stanford's losses this year, one overarching characteristic has been a lack of intensity on both ends of the floor. In sharp contrast, one can hardly imagine a tougher effort put forth than that of Stanford's 84-68 opening round NCAA win over Western Kentucky Thursday night. As we expected, the Hilltoppers went with a deep rotation and relentless man-to-man ball pressure. What we might not have fully expected was the amount of body contact on that defense, and the resultant physical style of play that pervaded throughout the contest. A total of 54 personal fouls were called in the game, and the game was honestly called much more loosely than what Cardinalmaniacs have become accustomed to in the slack Pac-10 officiating Twilight Zone.
Two key early fouls came against WKU's feature big man, 7'1" Chris Marcus, taking him out of the game after just the first three minutes of play. Stanford continued the early momentum to take a double-digit lead by the first media timeout, but the Toppers responded without their monolith in the middle, cutting the lead to just five after a 12-5 run. Though Stanford enjoyed a tremendous height advantage across all positions, Stanford's cold offense and free throw shooting allowed WKU to keep Marcus safely on the bench. After that early push to the first media timeout, Stanford scored one field goal at the 10:40 mark and then another at the 3:40 mark. Two field goals over a 12-plus minute stretch, yet the Card kept its lead with some strong defense to stymie the boys from Bowling Green, KY. The Toppers didn't top twenty points in the game until the final two minutes of the first half, when they also hit just their second three-pointer. Stanford played some of its best man defense of the season, forcing a lot of low percentage shots from WKU on the perimeter. Whenever the Toppers tried to drive the lane, they found Curtis Borchardt's long reach in their face, altering and blocking countless shots. For the record, C-Bo did log 5 blocks in the game. Western Kentucky only shot 23% against the Stanford D in the first half.
The Card led 36-22 at halftime in large part due to a late scoring surge. An eight-point lead stretched out to fourteen as the 'O' ignited after a transition alley-oop from Matt Lottich to Justin Davis with 2:14 to go in the half. The ball was a good distance past the rim, but JD exploded off the floor to stuff it while his body was moving behind the backboard... and in classic Stanford St. Louis fashion "he was fouled!" Justin would not convert the free throw, but Curtis Borchardt grabbed the offensive rebound and rifled it back outside the arc to a wide open Casey Jacobsen. Jake drilled the trey, netting five quick killer points for the good guys. Curtis also gets credit for starting the whole possession, as he actually pulled down a rebound on the defensive end while he lay literally on his back on the floor. He maintained possession and dished the ball to a nearby Jacobsen. Casey threw it down the court to Lotty, and the rest was history.
Chris Marcus provided a legit inside presence for WKU in the second half, where they could finally get some reasonable shots down low. But their greatest charge in the half came on the legs of their three-point shooting, as they made a mad 19-4 run that included four straight made treys. In fact, Marcus only scored just two points during that stretch. But Stanford saw a 16-point lead evaporate to just a single point, and Western Kentucky was feeling it.
Stanford broke their backs, though, by hitting their next four shots from the field on the next four possessions. The first found Justin Davis in the low post with a lob entry pass and an easy score down low. Julius Barnes next added three-pointer for some much-needed breathing room. The next possession saw Josh Childress with the ball in his favorite position, the left corner. He whipped out his patented baseline drive for a sweet jam around and through two defenders. J-Chill then added a three of his own from the right corner. Just like that, Stanford had the lead back to double-digits, and never really was threatened again.
Notable that this spurt all came with Curtis on the bench. He then rejoined the game and played a part in the second superb highlight reel play for Justin Davis in the game. Justin sat out on the high post and flashed open down the key as Chris Hernandez was guarded ten feet beyond the arc. As "Air" Justin received the pass, he was met with a triple-team of Toppers. He gave a small fake toward the basket, then pivoted back to deliver a no-look behind the back bounce pass to a wide-open Borchardt across the key. Truly one of the great passes of this entire Stanford season, and it would end with a three-point play on the free throw line for the "center formerly known as Baby Face."
Curtis was a dominant presence throughout the game, with or without Chris Marcus in the game. C-Bo put down 19 points and 12 boards, including 7 on the offensive glass. This all in just 28 minutes, as Monty tactfully rested Curtis regularly in this physically brutal game to keep him fresh for the stretch run of the second half. The one great black mark on this day was Borchardt's free throw shooting, just 5 of 10 on the evening. Marcus saw plenty of time on the bench as well, including the second half, as he battled a foot problem rather than foul problems in the final half of play.
Both Josh Childress and Chris Hernandez played excellently in the second half, which is a very positive sign for the frosh in March. Casey Jacobsen "only" chipped in with 17 points, but he hit 8 of 10 from the stripe, and added six boards and a team-high four assists. The surprise line of the game might go to Tony Giovacchini, who grabbed a career-high 7 rebounds... but also a season-tying high of 4 fouls. Both stats are remarkable in 16 minutes of play.
Stanford picked up its 20th win of the season, which keeps alive a streak of 20-win seasons back to the 1994-95 edition. This also extends a streak of first round wins in the NCAA tournament, also of 8 years now. The Card will meet #1 seed Kansas on Saturday, where more St. Louis magic will be needed for the greatest seed upset in Stanford history. The Jayhawks saw a serious scare today from the Crusaders of Holy Cross, who actually led the game inside the final ten minutes of regulation. Versatile guard Kirk Hinrich suffered an ankle sprain in the game, with questionable status for Saturday.
etc notes: Stanford scored 42 points in the first 27:09 in the game, and its final 42 points in the final 12:51 of the game... the 14-point win was Stanford's 6th straight double-digit first round victory margin... this was the second ever meeting with Western Kentucky, and now the record between the two programs stands at 1-1... the record against Kansas is not so even, with the Jayhawks taking 7 of the 8 all-time meetings - and that solo win for Stanford came in overtime 48 years ago... there could be some recruiting implications on the line with this Saturday's game, as Kansas loves to recruit from California; KU and UCLA are usually the ones to butt heads, but Stanford went toe-to-toe with Kansas for Josh Childress last year, and look to do so again with at least a pair of recruits in this 2003 class