Gameday Gonzaga-Stanford Notes

Since we first reported it to you last spring, Cardinalmaniacs™ have eagerly anticipated tonight's Stanford-Gonzaga affair. The #5-ranked Bulldogs present a nationally televised game with ESPN's "College GameDay" crew, plus a great opportunity for the Cardinal to boost their RPI and postseason prospects. There are other story lines surrounding these teams to digest...

  • Beyond the matchups and the importance of today's game in determining Stanford's postseason destiny, this game against Gonzaga represents a return non-conference scheduling that the Cardinal have not seen in several years.  The difficulty in both logistics and economics in scheduling high profile home-and-home games is a discussion best rehashed at another time, but the rarity is evident.  There was Seton Hall in 1995-96 and 1996-97, Connecticut in 1997-98 and 1998-99, Georgia Tech in 1999-2000 and 2000-01, and New Mexico in 2000-01 and 2001-02.  Stanford has not played anything of the like since, and in fact Stanford has not played any non-conference game of any kind during the Pac-10 schedule since the Lobos at Maples five years ago.  Today's Gonzaga game is the front end of a home-and-home contract that will bring the Bulldogs back to Maples Pavilion next year.  The date is still to be determined.
  • Is this series a sign of more compelling home-and-home scheduling to come under Trent Johnson?  "I wouldn't call it a blueprint," he answers.  "But I want to play versus good programs with quality players."
  • Other coaches in the conference have been outspoken about Stanford's non-conference schedule this year.  UCLA's Ben Howland blasted the Cardinal for playing and losing to lower tier teams on the road in the pre-season, while Arizona's Lute Olson, USC's Tim Floyd and Cal's Ben Braun have all this week expressed their hope that the Cardinal can win at Gonzaga to give the conference's RPI and public perception a boost.  The weight of the conference may ostensibly rest on the Card's shoulders tonight, but Trent Johnson waves all that off.  "I'm the head coach of Stanford Basketball," he coolly states.
  • The all-time series between Stanford and Gonzaga is tied at 2-2.  The teams first met in 1994 in the first round of the post-season NIT, when Stanford and freshman Brevin Knight were upset at Maples Pavilion.  The next meeting came again in the post-season, though this time in the Big Dance in 1999.  With the bulk of the previous year's Final Four team back and owning their highest ever seed, a #2, Stanford was stunned by the Zags in the second round.  The last two meetings both went to the Cardinal and both were played in The Arena at Oakland in the Pete Newell Challenge.  Those last two battles came two and three years ago, which means that upperclassmen on both rosters have played each other before.  In the 2003-04 meeting, Gonzaga freshman Adam Morrison came off the bench, playing most of his minutes late in the game with Stanford ahead comfortably.  He ripped up the house, finishing with 20 points.  Chris Hernandez, then a redshirt sophomore, remembers the performance.  "We saw signs of his greatness," says the Stanford guard.  "When we had the game won, he scored like eight or 10 straight points.  We were like, 'Who is this guy?'"
  • Morrison is hardly an unknown today, ranking #2 in the nation in scoring with 28.4 points per game.  He trails only Duke's J.J. Redick, who raised his average today with 35 points to a 28.7 ppg clip.  With high school players no longer able to jump directly to the NBA Draft, Morrison may be the favorite for the #1 overall selection come June.  He is not what you would call a "complete" player, but he is a completely dominant scorer.  He has the skills of an elite guard, but in the body of a 6'8" forward.  Shooting 43.3% from deep and 51.0% from the field, Morrison has scored 15 or more points in every game this year.  Only three times all year has he failed to hit 20 points.  Nine time has he hit 30 points.  His four games north of 40 points would all rank in the top 10 in the history of Stanford Basketball.  He is not just the most dominant and lethal scorer that Stanford has faced all year - he is the best the Cardinal have seen in several years.  "You're not going to slow him down," Trent Johnson admits.  "Adam Morrison is unguardable.  He's as good a player as there is in the country."
  • If you are scared of Morrison, you are not alone.  Not only is he an off-scale player in the landscape of college basketball, he is playing against a team that has allowed elite players to have huge games the last couple years.  Last season, Ike Diogu recorded games of 28 and 39 points in a pair of wins for Arizona State over Stanford - two of his four highest scoring games in the Pac-10 that season.  Thursday night, Leon Powe notched a new career high with 32 points in Cal's first win over the Cardinal since "The Show" was in high school.
  • Johnson and his Cardinal players are adamant that this game is not "Stanford vs. Adam Morrison," however.  The Zags are ranked #5 in the country because of their talent at all positions.  Johnson calls Derek Raivio one of the best point guards in the nation, and Erroll Knight possibly the nation's best defender.  Center J.P. Batista is averaging Matt Haryasz numbers, with 19.3 points and 9.1 rebounds.  Maybe the least heralded of Gonzaga's starters is skilled forward Sean Mallon.  Few people know or remember that Mallon was on Stanford's recruiting board in the Class of 2003, but he committed early to the Zags.  The Cardinal landed the post player they most wanted that year in Haryasz, but recruiting history makes for fun games within the game in these matchups.  Raivio of course was also recruited by the Cardinal the previous year, until his junior year June SAT score came in low and he immediately committed to Gonzaga.
  • He may or may not play, but it is noteworthy that Josh Heytvelt returned to practices and was cleared this week for tonight's game against Stanford.  The talented 6'11" power forward was the most highly rated recruit in the history of the Bulldogs' program, ranked #50 in the country by two years ago.  Chances are you have seen little or nothing from Heytvelt to date.  He redshirted last year and played just three games this year, suffering from a stress reaction and later a broken ankle.
  • The Zags face the difficulty of recruiting on the West Coast as the only basketball power not to play in the Pac-10.  Pulling players to Spokane while playing in the unremarkable WCC is tough sledding.  Mark Few has managed to battle head-to-head against programs in the power conferences to pull in some more highly rated players straight of high school, like Heytvelt and Raivio.  But they still remain a school that depends on finding talent from non-traditional sources.  Two players on their roster came from outside the country.  Four players transferred in from junior colleges or Division I schools.  In very recent news, they are adding another high profile transfer in Micah Downs from Kansas.  Former standout Ronny Turiaf was recruited from overseas, and Dan Dickau transferred across the state from Washington.
  • The last time Mark Few and Trent Johnson faced off?  The second round of the 2004 NCAA Tournament, when #10-seeded Nevada upset #2-seeded Gonzaga in an ambush, 91-72.
  • Watch Chris Hernandez tonight.  The fifth-year senior guard came down off his three-game Cloud Nine perch Thursday night.  After heroics and an average of 21 points per game against Washington, Oregon and Oregon State, Hernandez shot just 3-of-8 from the field at Cal and scored just 13 points.  He had the ball in his hands for the final shot once again, but committed one of his four turnovers (against two assists) with six seconds to go.  Hernandez is also a player who thinks a good deal about his play and performance, and he admitted yesterday that shaking off Thursday night was a hard task for him.  "I'm not going to lie," he says.  "It's tough.  It really is - losing a game like that."
  • One area where Hernandez has remained unflappable is his work at the free throw line.  One of the least loved skills and statistics in today's age of Sportscenter slam dunk highlight reels, free throw shooting has been the winning edge for Hernandez and Stanford more than once this year.  The fifth-year senior hit all five of his attempts at Cal, which gives him a streak of 26 straight at the charity stripe.  For the season, Hernandez is now hitting at exactly 90.0%.  He is the best in the Pac-10, and Stanford is also tops in the conference at 76.5%.  However, both fall short of tonight's hosts in Spokane.  Gonzaga is #1 in the nation at 78.8%, ahead of #6 Stanford.  Raivio also ranks as the best in the country, at 96.4%.
  • After a lackluster first half and then foul trouble, Matt Haryasz had a flat first half for Stanford in his return to action Thursday night after his eye injury the previous week.  He wore goggles with a prescription lens for his (injured) left eye, which was adjusted several times as his condition evolved in the preceding 48 hours.  The 6'11" senior center/forward was able to play much better in the second half, shooting 3-of-5 from the field including a late three-pointer that pulled Stanford to within one point.  He also shot 9-of-10 from the free throw line (all in the second half).  He struggled to play with the goggles, something he has never had to do before in his career.  Haryasz did not practice during the week, which meant that he was truly inexperienced with the head gear before play tipped off Thursday night.  The goggles steam up.  He has to turn his head more for a wide field of vision.  The basket was not a clear target, which makes his shooting all the more incredible.  "At the free throw line is where I had to focus really hard," Haryasz notes.
  • As a team, Stanford is looking to bounce back after losing their first game since January 19.  Their five-game winning streak was the longest active run in the conference, but now they sit in third place in the Pac-10 - one game behind Cal and two games behind UCLA.  The Cardinal cannot control their Pac-10 standing tonight in this non-conference game.  Haryasz does have one salient note on the conference race to offer.  "It's impossible for Cal and UCLA to win the rest of their games.  They still have to play each other," the Stanford senior points out.  And while the Cardinal and Bears have identical schedules the rest of the way, it is also worth observing that the Bruins have four of their final six on the road, including today's game at #21-ranked Washington.

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