* The spin move by freshman center Robin Lopez near the 14-minute mark of the first half was unlike anything I have ever seen for a Stanford seven-footer. He pretty much took our breath away with his college debut early in November, and he has shown us something new and different each time out since. Lopez has an offensive skill level that is still developing, and that will result in some uneven scoring game this year. However, his confidence in his offensive abilities is surging. Coupling that confidence with his athleticism is exciting/scary - depending on which uniform you are wearing on the court with him. But it's worth saying that the quickness and athleticism seen in that spin move is something no seven-footer I have watched in the last 15 years at Stanford has ever shown. Not even close. Not in the final years of Curtis Borchardt or Jason Collins. That spin move wasn't too far off what we enjoyed from Justin Davis during his tenure, and that is the highest athletic compliment I can pay a Stanford post player.
* By the end of the game, Stanford had a solid statistical defensive performance against the three-pointer. UC Davis managed 29.4% for the game from deep, and opponents are hitting just 32.0% of three-pointers against Stanford this young season. However, I was a little troubled watching the first half of this game, when Stanford defended the long ball. Davis hit 3-of-6, and it felt like they hurt Stanford worse than that because of the strikingly soft defense on those makes. Fifth-year senior point guard Carlton Weatherby played five feet off the shooter for the first. Then it was sophomore shooting guard Anthony Goods playing way off the next three-ball. Redshirt sophomore shooting guard Kenny Brown was a good five feet off the shooter on the third. These were all man defensive situations, and I don't believe those Aggies were lethal threats to drive to the basket. Perhaps the scouting report said to play off and leave those shots - I don't know. But I felt like I was having a flashback to some of Stanford's perimeter defense last year which I thought had departed. Just something to watch in coming games, and in particular against Texas Tech. The Red Raiders shoot an eye-popping 50.4% as a team, including Jarious Jackson at 58.3% and Charlie Burgess at 60.0%.
* Trent Johnson went with substitutions early and often against UC Davis. Already before the first media timeout, we had Weatherby in for Mitch Johnson, Peter Prowitt in for Lopez and Taj Finger in for Lawrence Hill. I felt like those moves were an acknowledgement of the tempo at which the game would be played, given UC Davis' defenses and pressure they apply. I'm not sure that those moves would come again the next time out, if Stanford looks to be in a more normal halfcourt game.
* I wondered if freshman power forward Brook Lopez in his college debut would substitute into this game for his brother, Robin, or if the two would play together. The answer? They both came off the bench at the same time late in the first half. Brook played less than four minutes, and it is too early to draw many conclusions from his play. He looked like a player who has been away from basketball since mid-summer, hesitating several times on offense. More interesting to me was the look Stanford employed on the defensive end with both Lopez in the game. Stanford played a 2-3 zone defense, with Robin in the middle and Brook playing to his flank. I'm not sure if a seven-footer should be asked to cover ground like that, in the way that a smartly passing offensive team could make him scoot back and forth. UC Davis did nothing, however, to exploit that possibility. Credit both of the freshmen, and the rest of the Stanford defense, who netted three turnovers their very first three possessions of the zone defense. I can understand the logic of playing Brook Lopez in a zone defense, despite what I just offered. While he is physically returning to form - and that will take weeks - it might be better to have him play a spot on the floor rather than a man. This is something to watch as it develops.
* Sophomore forward Lawrence Hill is showing me a lot to start this sophomore season, at least on the offensive end. His moves to the basket are so much quicker, more aggressive and more fluid than last year when in the paint. That is better leveraging his athleticism and earning him not only points but also a high percentage from the field (64.5% field goals). A good deal of that is mental, and through repetition in practice. I also think Hill is stronger and more explosive. He might be healthier than last year, too. Those observations all led me to believe that Hill best belongs at the 'four' for Stanford, rather than the 'three' spot at small forward which many observers favor. I'm opening my mind, though, as I watch him hit his jumpers away from the basket. Hill went 9-of-10 from the field, and that included his share of dunks and conversions at the basket. But he also Lawrence Hill drained some impressive jumpshots at 15 feet or further. One in particular on the baseline, and another at the top of the key, were outstanding. Hill's defense on the other end of the floor, is another matter however, at this time...
* The favorite subject of the day for Cardinalmaniacs™ is the offensive scoring abilities and threat of sophomore point guard Mitch Johnson. The season is still young, but 1-of-10 from three-point range is not the start he or Stanford hoped to see. I watched Johnson after a pick-up game earlier this fall stay on the court for a long run of shooting. One drill had him take two dribbles and then pull-up at the top of the circle for a three-pointer, and he hit his first 15 of those shots by my count. I expected improvement in his perimeter shooting this year, and it might yet still reveal itself. In this Davis game, Johnson hit a pair of jumpers where he stepped in and pulled up a few feet inside the arc. At face, those shots were encouraging to see go down. However, that will rarely be available for Johnson. He will be defended very softly, but not to the extent that he can so easily dribble and pull up. Davis was trapping in their halfcourt defense, and on both of these jumpers, Johnson was left wide open to take a dribble. Any medium-range jumpers for him will have to come on a legitimate drive and quick pull-up, which is not his method of operation. On that note, Johnson twice drove all the way to the basket against Davis resulting in charging fouls. On a third, he headed into a nest of Aggies with nowhere to go and ended up handing the ball off to a defender in front of him.
* Notice how Stanford broke the three-quarter court Davis trap? It was Johnson and senior small forward Fred Washington together bringing the ball up. For the most part, it was quite successful. There may be better presses and better athletes executing them from future opponents, but I like the personnel and plan. Washington of course had the best game of his college career two years ago when USC tried to trap Stanford all game, and Washington is at his best offensively when the defense spreads the entire court and leaves him open floor with which to operate. More to the point, Washington is a pretty nice passer. It is his best skill. His size also is nice to have when facing a trap away from the basket, giving a chance to see over the defense and pass over the defense.
* Somebody correct me please if I'm wrong, but I think Washington's three-point attempt shortly before the eight-minute media timeout in the first half was his first jumpshot of the season. Not just his first three-point heave, but his first attempted jumper. Every other make or miss has come around the basket. In contrast to his passing, Washington's shooting skill has not improved during his four years, which leaves mixed emotions toward his shot selection this season. His 69.2% work from the field leads the team and towers over anything he has done in his college career. To that end, you have to give Washington a standing ovation for his decision-making in trying to score the ball this fall. On the other hand, he will be increasingly scouted by defenses with that knowledge and have a harder and harder time driving to the basket. And his shot chart will be another powerful piece of why opponents zone Stanford this year.
* What was wrong with Stanford's 12-point win over UC Davis? The fact that the home Cardinal led by 27 points with nine minutes to go in the game. Then the Aggies put together a 24-7 run to draw the game to just 10 points. There are plenty of places to point your finger in that situation. I'll direct your attention to the turnovers, which had been a huge factor in Stanford's favor up until that 27-point lead peaked. Whether it was sloppy Aggie offense or stifling Stanford defense, Davis had 22 turnovers at that point. How many times did the Aggies turn the ball over during their seven-minute run that shaved 17 points off their deficit? One. Stanford may have taken their foot off the gas a little bit on the defensive end during that run, which also hurt their offense. Stanford score loads of points in transition and off turnovers in the game.
* Robin Lopez came into the UC Davis game shooting 9-of-11 at the free throw line. Not a huge body of evidence, but it was still 82% and he looked fine at the stripe. Against the Aggies, there was a body invasion because Lopez looked like a complete mess. He hit just 1-of-7 at the charity line, and many of those misses abused the front side of the rim. Something to watch.
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