Reading Las Vegas

As Stanford Basketball tries to find itself again, basketball columnist Jeff Fawcett found himself this past weekend crossing the country to Sin City to watch the Cardinal take on Virginia Tech. Now returned to his frigid home on the East Coast, Jeff has for you his review of the eventful, and somewhat hopeful, two hours of hoops.

Pregame

The crowd of 10,011 for the UNLV-Texas Tech game evacuates the building so fast you would think it was 9 o'clock on a Saturday night in Vegas and they had better things to do.  The remaining gathering of maybe a thousand is widely scattered except for a concentration at midcourt.  I'd guess 50% Stanford, 45% Virginia Tech, 5% neutral.  Tark stays for the game; the UNLV dance team doesn't.  Bad deal for the males in attendance.

Guy next to me says the Hokies win the introductions eyeball test, as skinny white center, skinny white power forward, white shooting guard with knee brace and stocky white point guard doesn't make for an intimidating group.  I tell him our coaching staff would crush Va Tech's if they played, so there!

Fred Washington is starting for Tim Morris, a surprise given Morris' 7-of-10, 15-point outing vs. Davis.  Trent Johnson is definitely going with defense.

Game Notes

19:55  Stanford in a 2-1-2 zone?  Do my eyes deceive me?  I like it in theory since the Hokies have a big edge in one-on-one quickness, and anything has to be better than the man defense we've been playing.  I assume much practice time has been spent on it during the long break.

19:41  Coleman Collins misses the first shot of the game.  Taj Finger rebounds - a good start.  Finger turnover - oops.

19:32  Zabian Dowdell missed jumper.  Finger rebounds, Matt Haryasz turnover - oops, again.

18:43  Jamon Gordon missed jumper.  Finger rebounds.  At this rate, Finger will end with 94 rebounds if he plays all 40 minutes.

18:07  Chris Hernandez with the three.  Stanford up 3-0.  500 people cheer.

17:10  Fred Washington with the offensive foul on a forced drive to the hoop - can't help but think this is becoming his signature move.

16:20  First substitution is Lawrence Hill for Finger.  Very interesting…

16:00  Virginia Tech finally scores.  Stanford's zone is the best anyone has ever seen, a secret weapon we have been waiting to unleash at just the right moment.  Or the Hokies are just off so far.  Who knows…

14:54  Stanford up 7-2 at the first media timeout, Morris in for Washington, who sits the rest of the half.

14:36  Collins throws down a wicked dunk off a drive-and-dish through the zone.  Hope it's not a sign...

13:30  Finger back in for Hill.  Okay, maybe not that interesting; Hill ends with five minutes.

13:06  Mitch Johnson in for Dan Grunfeld.

10:36  Finger with a nice block, mano-a-mano.

09:06  A Tech three gives them their first lead, 15-14.  Instead of jump starting their offense, they instead go scoreless for 6:18, as Stanford eventually builds a 27-15 lead.

Halftime  A 30-21 lead and everyone wearing Cardinal is smiling.  I head to the press room to grab the halftime stats.  I instantly notice some errors, which never were corrected.  Mitch Johnson missed a baseline jumper, but he ends the game 0-of-0 on field goal attempts.  Hernandez left the game at the 11:30 mark but shows 20 minutes played.  Themes: Hernandez with 10 points; Stanford up 21-14 on the boards; Va Tech just 36% shooting and a dreadful 0-of-4 from the line.  Best defensive effort of the season.  Can't ask for a better first half.

19:36  Ouch, they start with another Coleman dunk.  Stanford is in man defense, original starters in.

19:08  Haryasz answers with a jumper.  He can get an open 17-footer every possession if he wants it.

19:00  Ouch, again - three-point play for the Hokies.

18:54  Haryasz answers with a jumper (like I said…).

18:38  The start of a dreadful stretch; women and children, please leave the room…

  • Foul on Washington, non-shooting
  • Hokies miss, offensive rebound
  • Hokies miss, offensive rebound
  • Hokies miss, offensive rebound
  • Foul on Grunfeld, they make 1-of-2
  • Turnover Stanford
  • More misses and turnovers including a blown fastbreak that ends with another Hokie dunk.  34-29 Stanford.  At the 18:00 mark Finger got nailed in the nose with an elbow in front of everyone except the officials.  I talked to him after the game; you could still see where he got hit.  He is forced out for a long stretch.
  • Another Stanford miss, another Hokies miss and offensive rebound, followed by a three.  34-32 Stanford.  Hernandez hits the floor hard during one sequence; the floor is okay.

15:15  Va Tech ties the game, 34-34.  Stanford goes back to zone...  My notes say "Peter Prowitt runs like cartoon character" – he sort of bounds along, with lots of wasted vertical motion.  Running lessons are in order.

14:43  Nice dish by Hernandez to Haryasz for the dunk.  Stanford ends a four-plus minute stretch of futility.

13:52  Haryasz gets doubled on the baseline, and no one cuts or moves.  He makes a bad pass to Morris in the opposite corner that is picked off.  That double is what we want; it should get a wide open three by someone.  Instead, it got Va Tech the ball.

11:17  Grunfeld with a bad forced drive in traffic, lots of motion resulting in nothing.  His "jumper" is off, sort of a two-handed high arcing toss that is a far cry from textbook form.

11:15  Hernandez back in after a two-minute rest.  Stanford went scoreless while he was out.  Haryasz goes out.

10:20  Hernandez hits two free throws, his first points of the half.

10:01  Prowitt fouls Collins, who is approximately 500% quicker than him.  Collins makes the first free throw and misses the second, but Deron Washington goes right over Prowitt for a tip-dunk.  Awful sequence.  41-40, Tech.

9:32  Haryasz back in. A lineup of him, Hernandez, Grunfeld, Finger, and Morris will stay on the court for the next eight minutes, with no subs.

5:40  Harysaz goes for an ill-advised and unnecessary help block.  Collins left alone slams home the rebound.  47-46 Hokies, and it's a nail biter.  Wish they had a beer guy here; I'm parched.

4:37  Sweet pass from Finger to Grunfeld; Stanford up, 50-47.  Unfortunately that was the last positive play of the game, as Stanford would go scoreless until just 19 seconds remain in the game.

3:35  Hernandez fouled.  Media timeout.  He misses the front end of the one-and-one, the second time in the game he missed the front end off of a timeout.  Give him a ball during the timeout or make him stand or something.  The break to catch his breath should help, not hurt.

0:58  Down three, Grunfeld steps on the sideline - turnover.  Ouch.  Stanford sits back in zone and lets Va Tech run 30 seconds off the clock.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.  Extend the game down three; don't shorten it.  Especially against a team that has been shooting airball free throws (they finish 8-of-17 from the line).

0:27  Ballgame.  After running the clock down against the passive zone, Markus Sailes hits his only three-point attempt of the game.  56-50, Va Tech.

Final Thoughts

Holding the Hokies to 59 points and 39% shooting is a huge positive.  They are clearly the best team we have faced, and we responded with our best defensive effort.

Taj Finger ended with four rebounds, 90 short of my projection.

What is up with Fred Washington?  Starts both halves but plays just the first five minutes of each: two fouls, one turnover and everything else is 0.

Game after game, Jason Haas and Mitch Johnson combine for 20 minutes and close to zero points.  That simply has to change.

There were a number of timeouts, but I wonder if guys were a bit gassed – no subs for eight minutes down the stretch, as mentioned earlier.  Of course no one exactly earned playing time, so I understand it.

Two points for Stanford off of turnovers, zero fastbreak points.  Not quite what we expected from the "more up-tempo" Stanford of the off-season.

I eavesdropped on Steve Lavin chatting with Finger after the game.  He was encouraging, with some "lunch pail" hard-working type stuff.  Also something about not knowing how to announce "he got Finger in the nose," or some such attempt at a joke that didn't get a laugh from Finger.

Bobby Knight had dinner with Pete Rose among others Saturday night.

Disappointing but encouraging is what I was left with.  Defense is, after all, half the battle.  I expect a strong showing against Denver, perhaps holding them to less than 50 points.  I'll go out on a limb and predict 71-49, Cardinal.


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