Musings from Missoula

Traveling to Missoula, Montana in December is perilous enough. Witnessing a 19-point grizzly defeat at the hands of the Grizzlies was downright traumatic. Daniel managed to keep his composure during the fright-fest Friday night well enough to pen some thoughts and observations of the game and this Stanford Basketball team. Read at your own peril.

10 pre-game announcements, in order of increasing importance:

1. The tip was postponed for 30 minutes after snow kept a ref arriving from Bozeman, normally about three hours away, until 6:10 local time.
Funniest sign… "Stanfurd: smartur, not better".
3. In pre-game shoot-around, sophomore center Peter Prowitt worked on a shot where he started about six feet from the bucket in the right low block, back to the basket, pivoted to his right towards the center of the lane, turned and launched a jump shot.  Prowitt's performance when I was watching: 0-for-6.
4. A win gives Trent Johnson his 100th career victory as a head coach.  A loss would drop him to 99-89.  Hidden stat: Johnson was 5-4 against Montana in his playing days at Boise State in the 1970s.
5. Montana coach Larry Krystkowiak is the leading scorer and rebounder in Montana history.  He had a cup of coffee in the NBA (playing with the Milwaukee Bucks, among others) and returned to the Montana post after coaching a CBA team in Boise for a year.
6. Senior forward/center Matt Haryasz is playing with a black protective sheath on his left elbow, Grunfeld and Washington each have one of these sheaths on their knees.
7. Troublesome stat #1: Senior guards Chris Hernandez and Dan Grunfeld are responsible for 11 of Stanford's 12 made three pointers to date – hardly an ideal plethora of perimeter threats.
8. Troublesome stat #2: Fred Washington's 12 fouls lead the team… by five. Washington has played only 17 minutes per game.
9. I hope girlfriends past, present and future are not reading this… because the Montana cheerleaders are unbelievably hot…  Albeit in an overly-made up, trashy Brittney Spears kind of way.  I am considering a transfer to Missoula.
10. Starters: Sophomore forward Taj Finger, Grunfeld, Haryasz, and senior guards Jason Haas and Chris Hernandez.

Game thoughts:

Sloppy early (the Card miss their first six shots), but Stanford has come out with intensity – Finger, Hernandez and Washington (who replaced Haas early) each crashed the boards hard.

Montana jumps to a 7-0 lead on defensive breakdowns – the Cardinal left Jordan Hasquet wide open for a three, and Haryasz was late in defending a lay-up.

The offense and defense are equally sloppy (five Card turnovers, poor offensive shot selection, uncontested looks for the Grizzlies) as Montana jumps to a 13-0 lead… Haas and Prowitt check in, while Washington and Finger rest.

Montana keeps that 13-point lead, increasing the score to 25-12, as Stanford is not playing well on either end - bad offense and poor defense...  Most of Montana's points have come either from within four feet or on deep balls, Stanford's two weaknesses to date.  To be fair, Montana is making a few miracle shots, forced runners with the shot clock running down, but only a couple.  Prowitt and Finger are now both on the bench.

True freshman Mitch Johnson is in at the eight-minute mark at point guard, and immediately, nearly commits a turnover on a cross-court skip pass.  Johnson is on the floor with redshirt sophomore guard Tim Morris, Hernandez, Grunfeld and Haryasz.

If Stanford loses, it will be because they are not executing (i.e. smart effort), but certainly not for lack of effort.  Your Cardinal are yelling, diving, and (dare I say it?) cursing all over the place.

Haryasz and Grunfeld started a combined 2-fo-9 before Haryasz' 12 footer from the left baseline cuts the Montana lead to 29-17.

Johnson's first career three-pointer could not have come at a bigger time, as it cuts the late first-half lead to 33-22.

Thus far, this game has been an affirmation – Stanford is weak defensively in post and on the perimeter; offense has great individual parts but is not a cohesive unit.  The offense, presumably, will mesh.  Defensively, the lack of meat down low and overall team speed might be more troublesome.

I think the defensive issues compound themselves.  Because Stanford may not be confident down low, it collapses the post, which in turn leaves shooters open for the three, which in turn is compounded by perimeter players slower to close out.  Hernandez was never the speediest of defenders, and to my eyes Grunfeld is a step slower this season.

Hernandez is whistled for the foul after hard contact on a screen near half-court with four minutes left in the first half.  Montana goes to the line for a 37-24 lead.  Hernandez grimaces afterwards (appears to be his knee) and talks to the ref out of the next timeout.

Stanford is out-boarded 11-6 early.  No Prowitt and Finger for much of the first half may be a factor.

Defensive lapse:  Tim Morris, who is guarding Kevin Criswell in a double team.  Instead of forcing Criswell into the help-side defense, though, Morris over-pursues, allowing Criswell to cut back and draw a foul from a beaten Morris with the shot clock running down.  The Montana guard hits both free throws for a 39-27 lead.

Haas responds nicely from a near-airball, leaning into a tough bank shot after a Cardinal offensive board.

Stanford trails 44-31 at halftime despite a good shooting day (48% field, 4-of-7 threes).  The defense never got off the bus – Montana shot 63% from the field, 5-of-7 deep and 9-of-11 on free throws, many of which Stanford committed on plays where they were beaten.  Montana is also out-rebounding Stanford 14-10 - both teams have five offensive boards.  Stanford has eight turnovers to four assists, and, folks, it looks worse in person.

The duo of Grunfeld and Haryasz propels Stanford to 8-of-12 shooting to open the second half.  The two combine for 20 points in the half's first eight minutes.  Haryasz finishes with 22 and Grunfeld with 16.  (Hernandez adds 12 – no other Cardinal finish in double figures.)  The lineup for much of the early second-half offensive explosion?  Mitch Johnson, freshman forward Lawrence Hill, junior forward Fred Washington, Haryasz and Grunfeld.

In a game they never led, Stanford cannot cut the lead to within seven because, try as Grunfeld and Haryasz might on the offensive end, the defense never tightens.  One datapoint: Stanford opens 5-of-8 in the second half, but Montana opens 4-of-9.  The Grizzlies actually finished 54% from the field in the second half, though some of those makes came when the game was out of reach.

Haas does not play much in the second half.  He seems to force up his shots under pressure – nearly airballing a key baseline shot down the stretch (not for the first time).

Stanford unravels late.  Down by nine in crunch time, Hernandez and Grunfeld tangle, creating a turnover and a two-on-none break for Montana.  After Criswell improbably misses the wide-open lay-up, Virgil Matthews is able to connect on an uncontested putback because Finger had visibly slowed in his pursuit.  That one play emblemized the contest better than any.  Just a minute later, another two-on-one Grizzly break ends in a lay-up and all but ices the contest.

The collapse continues, as Stanford's full-court press fails to account for the home run ball (an in-bounds pass to an opponent behind the entire team): Montana twice finds guard Virgil Matthews wide-open behind the Stanford press.  To add insult to injury, Trent Johnson is whistled for a "T"; Finger fouls out just two seconds later; and Grunfeld is called for an intentional foul in the waning minutes.

All five Montana starters hit double figures.  The frontcourt (Hasquet, Matthews, Andrew Strait) finishes a combined 17-of-23 from the field, including 6-of-6 deep and add 14-of-16 from the line for a combined 54 points.

One positive: Stanford finishes with 17 offensive boards (12 in the second half), more than double Montana's eight.

Stanford finishes with just one player over four rebounds (Haryasz – 12) and just 11-of-21 from the charity stripe.  Haryasz and Grunfeld combine to shoot just 6-of-12 – many of those shots came in the second half, and both players must have been tired, as they played nearly the entire game.  Also, the two Montana student sections were right under either basket, and those kids pulled no punches.  In-bound passes from underneath the hoop must have been a treat.  Meanwhile, Montana shoots 24-of-28 (many of the free throws were off deliberate/intentional fouls, admittedly).

This game makes painfully obvious that Stanford has just three offensive threats: no player other than Hernandez, Haryasz or Grunfeld tops six points.  Perhaps field goal attempts are more illustrative, though: Haryasz 16 (made eight), Grunfeld 14 (made six), Hernandez 13 (made just four - part of the problem), Morris and Finger – four apiece, Haas and Johnson three apiece, and Prowitt with two.  Otherwise stated: "Big Three" - 43, others – 16.  Hard to score without shooting.

I know raising this may be considered heresy, but Hernandez needs to pick up his game, especially considering the composition of this team.  4-of-13 shooting is not going to cut it, especially when many of those looks were on open threes (3-of-7 deep).  Hernandez only went to the line twice on the night, and finished with just four assists and three rebounds in 35 minutes.  A quiet 12 points, on the whole.

Haryasz finishes with 12 rebounds, the only Cardinal to grab more than four.  Mitch Johnson's four assists in eight minutes is also impressive.

Trent Johnson loves when I ask him about this post-game, but Stanford has started slowly for the second straight year under the Coach.  This year's losses to Montana and UC-Irvine follow last year's setbacks to unheralded Tennessee and Santa Clara (and close calls against San Francisco and Denver).

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