If it seems like a year ago that Stanford and USC last matched up, well, that is almost true. The Cardinal and Trojans faced off in December in a game Stanford fans have cast out of their memory, due not only to the time that has elapsed but also to the abject disappointment of the performance. Dropping to 0-2 to start the conference, Stanford trailed by as many as 18 points early in the second half. Then senior Matt Haryasz injured his ankle and left the game.
But before bad could turn to worse, a youth movement helped to lift the Cardinal back into the game. A 15-3 run was spurred by freshmen Lawrence Hill and Mitch Johnson, with the former delivering a breakout performance of 20 points and seven rebounds. The game was as close as four points late, but breakdowns on both ends sunk Stanford in the 82-71 loss.
Both Stanford and USC have undergone a great many changes since that meeting. The Cardinal have played 15 games since then, containing a rollercoaster of highs and lows, injuries and lineup changes.
One of the recent trends for Stanford has been opponents' defensive attention that has been dedicated to Haryasz and fifth-year senior Chris Hernandez. The Cardinal's famed one-two punch has had spotty support from the remainder of the roster this year, and game plans that limited the scoring of the "Big Two" have been a big reason Stanford has dropped four of their last six games after riding a streak where they won eight of nine.
Injuries and illness have also tripped up the Cardinal this year, with the latest being a nasty virus that held senior Dan Grunfeld to just two minutes at Washington and 15 minutes at Washington State. The greatest recipient of increased minutes, filling the void, was freshman wing Anthony Goods. He logged career highs of minutes in both games, scoring eight points in Seattle and five points in Pullman. The latter tally may sound unremarkable, but Goods' pair of baskets at Washington State were as many as Haryasz or Hernandez made. Moreover, five points in a 39-37 game (the lowest point total in the Pac-10 since the advent of the shot clock) is tantamount to double figures in an average contest. Goods also snared seven rebounds in Pullman, including an offensive board that led to the game-winning put-back and score.
"It was definitely a thrill," says the smiling freshman of his highlight moment.
It was a thrill for Stanford fans, as well, who have been excited for the athleticism and sharpshooting that Goods is expected to bring to the program. The 6'4" freshman, however, has seen sparse playing time this year. He is averaging just 6.8 minutes and 1.6 points per game.
"It's really been a learning experience," Goods comments. "Working hard in practice and dealing with certain games not getting in and certain games only getting a few minutes. You try to stay focused and get ready for when your time comes."
"I think Anthony Goods has done a really good job of continuing to come out everyday to try to get better, to work in practice," says head coach Trent Johnson. "[It is difficult] for a freshman who is coming out of a high school program where he is used to shooting the ball and used to playing all the time. Now he comes into a collegiate environment where there are a lot of challenges on the floor and off the floor. It's easier said than done to continue to come out and work to try to get better. He's done that. He had an opportunity, and he played well over the weekend."
"The easiest thing to do would be to pout, or to listen to loved ones or whoever else would say that you should be playing," the coach continues. "But these are good kids, good players and good people. They just continue to work and to take care of their opportunities."
We said coming into the year that the great challenge for Goods would be his maturity - understanding how to play on a consistent level, with both his defensive effort and his offensive skill level. His defense was poor early in the year, though he has developed a better understanding and effort in that area. Goods also shot the ball much more poorly in his limited game opportunities than he or we might have expected. Prior to his mini-outburst over his last three games, when the freshman has shot 54.5% from the field and 50% from deep, Goods was a meager 16.7% overall and 0% from three-point range. The youngster has had rare opportunities to come back from this mistakes, with the likes of veterans Chris Hernandez, Dan Grunfeld and Tim Morris playing ahead of him at the wing. Understanding his level of play, relative to seasoned and talented players in front of him, has helped keep Goods grounded and not as frustrated by his playing time as some fans might expect.
"I wouldn't necessarily say that you get frustrated because you see things in practice," he describes. "Obviously there are better players on the team than me, so of course they are going to be playing more than me. It's not really a frustration. You just have to keep pushing so that I can elevate my game. That's why it's good to have guys like Chris and Dan and even Tim, who are good guards to go against in practice. That really helps to elevate your game."
"Anthony Goods is one of these young men who is his own worst enemy. He really gets down on himself when the ball is not going down for him," Johnson explains. "As opposed to what we to try and help him, I think the most important thing has been for him to understand what we talked about going into this year. You are going to be playing with Chris, with Danny, with Tim - a lot of guys that have been experienced and for whatever reason are bigger, stronger and more advanced right now. The best thing you can do is to learn the system, continue to defend, and then take your time."
That all being said, there have been a handful of instances this year in press conferences, either post-game or mid-week, when Johnson has said that he wished he could have found more playing time for Goods early in the season. The talent that could be developed is part of that desire, but the Cardinal coach makes those comments more because he sees a good kid he wishes could have had more opportunities.
"I always feel like that, as it relates to good kids who work hard," Johnson says. "Granted, saying that, in no shape or form was it a situation where if we would have played Anthony, it would have been best for the team. I've said this over and over again: I don't decide who plays. Those guys know. They make the decisions based on how they produce in practice and how they produce when given an opportunity."
Johnson says that Goods' situation is nothing new at Stanford. He points to Mike McDonald biding time behind Arthur Lee. Kris Weems and Matt Lottich also greatly expanded their roles after limited freshman experiences behind veteran wings.
"Who has been playing in front of Anthony? It has been Chris; it has been Tim at times; and it has been Danny. That's a tough situation to be in," Johnson sympathizes. "He's a young man, if you're being fair, who has been put into a system where he's played behind quite frankly two guys who were All Pac-10 last year, so the minutes have been limited - and then a guy in Tim Morris who is probably our best defender. He has waited his turn much like guys like Kris Weems and much like Matt Lottich."
We can look hopefully to the future for Goods' expanded role and impact at Maples Pavilion. With the graduation of Hernandez and Grunfeld this spring, there will be a tremendous need for shooting skill on the perimeter for Stanford next year. Tim Morris (20.0%), Fred Washington (20.0%) and Mitch Johnson (28.6%) have been poor career shooters thus far at Stanford.
But with the Trojans coming to town tonight, we are reminded of the impact a freshman like Goods can still have this year. It was his classmate, Hill, who carried the day in a near-miraculous comeback the last time these two teams met. Goods made the winning play and basket for Stanford on Saturday at Washington State.
"I think that my shooting has gotten a lot better. It was a bit inconsistent. My defense has also gotten better. I've been really trying to work on it," Goods describes. "Overall, my confidence has gotten better. I've been working harder in practice, and on off-days and carrying that over to practices. I think all of it has evolved and helped me over the course of the year."
Trent Johnson said this week that Anthony Goods will play tonight. He made no promise or prediction on the absolute or relative number of minutes. The Cardinal coach says that will be controlled, in part, by how Grunfeld plays as he recovers from his trying illness. But perhaps when he does see his minute here or minute there, Goods will be buoyed by the confidence from his performances last week. Perhaps he can provide another spark for the Cardinal as they fight against defensive double-teams against Haryasz and Hernandez, and as they fight for their post-season lives. We shall see.
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