10 Takeaways: MBB vs. Santa Clara

It was a black Saturday for Stanford sports, though on two very different stages. It was disappointing but not disheartening to see the women's volleyball team drop in the NCAA Finals in Nebraska's backyard. It was a different matter to see men's basketball beaten badly at home by Santa Clara, 62-46. We present a series of 10 insightful observations, opinions and statistical notes from the latter.

*  First, what this game was not.  It was not like the whipping Stanford took from Air Force last month.  Just because both games were bad losses at home against teams from mid-major conferences, that does not mean they transpired in a similar fashion.  The Falcons executed sensationally their offensive sets, with a system that was too difficult and too quickly run for the Cardinal defense to handle.  Air Force shot monster percentages in the first half, including 70.8% from the field and 58.3% from three-point range.  They had uncontested runs at the basket and drained everything from 20 feet.  Santa Clara instead shot a pedestrian 40.6% from the field in the first half of this game and 0% from three-point range, yet more than doubled up the Cardinal at halftime.  Stanford had its problems versus Air Force, and no loss by 34 (much less at home) can be rationalized or accepted.  But you could clearly tip your cap to the Falcons afterward and admire their team and the way they executed their system.  At the end of Saturday night, you could only stand appalled at the Stanford performance, mostly scratching your head at how a totally unremarkable group of Broncos beat the Cardinal at Maples so easily.  Stanford shot poorly overall in both games, though the 4-of-27 (14.8%) from the field in the first half against Santa Clara is something you may never see again.  It is also worth pointing out that Air Force ran a match-up zone defense that perfectly exploited Stanford's offensive frailties, while Santa Clara played man defense and Stanford simply could not hit the broadside of a barn.

Anthony Goods is a streak shooter, and Stanford fans apparently have to live with that.  The sophomore shooting guard was 1-of-5 from deep in Stanford's last game versus Texas Tech, and an 0-of-5 evening behind the arc against Santa Clara.  Goods was shut out Saturday night until the 37th minute of the game, a short pull-up jumper that was his only score of the game.  I remarked to some people in San Jose after the Texas Tech game that Stanford probably would expect to lose a game against a decent opponent when Goods had that kind of night - couldn't hit anything and made matters much worse with some horrific passing (five turnovers) - except for the infusion of Brook Lopez.  The freshman power forward sparked Stanford in both halves with playmaking, energy and scoring.  I felt like his addition overcame Goods' off day of shooting.  You need to have multiple dynamic scoring weapons if you have just one perimeter shooter, who can go cold in any given game.  Lopez joined Lawrence Hill in doing that two weeks ago, but he had a much different game against Santa Clara...

*  The adage says that seven-footers are sometimes more comfortable playing against other big bodies.  Big men can feel more secure when their body movements on both offense and defense in the paint are operating against somebody their size and speed.  Many of us wondered how the Lopez twins would fare when facing their first true opponent this year with size that can match their combined 14 feet.  The answer is not what we probably expected.  Robin Lopez had a fair but not abominable game with eight points, six boards and two blocks in 25 minutes - with just one foul.  Brother Brook had a nightmare evening.  Brook did not score until the 10-minute mark of the second half, and his two missed free throws in the first half were some of the ugliest of this young season.  Santa Clara defended the Lopez twins with a rotation of their triple towers, who each stand at 6'11"/7'0" and tip the scales at 305, 275 and 245 pounds.  The first two, sophomore John Bryant and redshirt junior Josh Higgins, were undoubtedly unique among opponents the Lopez twins have faced thus far in their basketball lives.  These guys were legit "fee, fie, foe, fum" beasts.  Brook Lopez in particular predicates much of his offense starting away from the basket, where his quickness is superior to most post players defending him.  On paper, he was far faster of foot than Bryant or Higgins; however, the Santa Clara were so wide and ate up so much space that he could not move around them with his typically effective lateral quickness.  The box score shows five points and one field goal, which stacked against three turnovers and three fouls is bad enough.  But what caught my eye was the number of times Brook Lopez did not even attempt a shot because of the wall in front of him.  Both Lopez brothers spent way too much of their touches outside six or eight feet, unable to get position in the low post.  Additionally, Brook Lopez had visible difficulty obtaining rebounding position against the Broncos big.  There is a lot of strength he can add to his frame in the coming years to ameliorate that problem.

*  How did Stanford ultimately escape its offensive malaise and make their run in the second half?  Buried by 22 points, you can only expect three-point shooting to pull you out of the hole, but the Cardinal didn't hit a single perimeter shot in its race to an 11-point deficit.  The team that shot 2-of-8 at the charity stripe in the first half ironically made their run largely at the free throw line.  Fred Washington had the worst first half of his season Saturday night, but to his credit, he said, 'Enough of this crap,' and started attacking the basket midway into the second half.  He drew a foul, hit two free throws and started a 9-0 run.  Stanford's previous biggest run in the game was four points.  Five of these nine points came at the stripe, and the attacking mentality on offense completely picked up the team.  Stanford simply is not a good jumpshooting team.  They have to be able to beat defenders off the dribble and have to want to attack the basket.  The inability and unwillingness of players on Stanford's current roster to do so - more often than not - is arguably as big a problem as the paucity of perimeter marksmen.  I often hold my breath when Washington puts his head down and hurls his body toward the basket, but kudos to him for doing something that gave the team life for the first time in 30 minutes.  It should be done with skill and body control, but some other players on the Stanford roster need to take a cue from Washington and remember the importance of going to the rim.  Goods, for one, has ability putting the ball on the floor but forgets it often.

*  Speaking of Goods, proponents of his playing point guard for Stanford may have seen one good thing Saturday night when he substituted for Mitch Johnson late in the first half.  Goods ran the point for one minute 41 seconds.  Stanford had two turnovers, one field goal attempt and no points.  When things are going so very badly, you can try to mix it up.  Putting Goods on the floor in a backcourt with Landry Fields gives some dynamic options - in theory.  In practice, I still do not see any qualities in Goods that can make teammates better.  This limited experiment was a mark in that column.

*  Santa Clara only shot 43.1% for the game, so it is hard to find fault with the Stanford defense in examining this game.  However, there were some terrible decisions defending at 20-plus feet from the basket in the second half which helped quash the Cardinal's comeback.  Johnson fouled Santa Clara guard Danny Periseau a long way from the hoop, and a couple possessions later Goods fouled guard Brody Angley.  Four free throws.  Four points.  Stanford never again made a dent in the deficit.  An important part of making a run is not letting your opponent score, and Stanford worked hard to do that during their run.  To send Santa Clara in the bonus for freebies at the stripe was foolish.  Goods' foul was truly unconscionable.  23 feet from the basket, he sticks his hand into Angley's chest, which of course draws a foul when the guard puts the ball on the floor.  It is hard to imagine what inspired that idea.

*  Santa Clara shot 3-of-7 for the game from three-point land, which appears inconsequential in the overall picture of Stanford loss that was this decisive.  But when your shots are not going down and offense is this difficult, little mistakes on defense can blow you out of the water.  The Broncos built their biggest lead of the game and probably nailed the Cardinal to the cross when eighth-year senior Brandon Rohe (he's been around that long, right?) canned back-to-back three-pointers.  The 16-point lead surged to a 22-point margin, from which Stanford could never recover.  What was so galling about Rohe's shots is that he had no defender within 10 or more feet of him either time.  Later in the half, it was Danny Periseau who drained another three-pointer.  He was alone on his half of the court.  With nobody in the same ZIP code, was it any surprise that Santa Clara was able to shoot 3-of-3 from downtown in the second half?

*  If you checked the box score and were surprised that Stanford "only" suffered with 26.7% shooting from deep in the game, don't be fooled.  It was worse than that percentage.  Stanford was 2-of-13 before freshman Landry Fields hit the Cardinal's last two attempts, both coming in garbage action in the final couple minutes of the game...  "Garbage" may not be a fair descriptor, however.  Fields came into the game shooting 2-of-16 (12.5%) from three-point range, and the freshman has a far better shooting touch than the numbers depict.  Knocking down shots, even late with a game already out of hand, can give confidence to a youngster like Fields.  It would be nice if he can find his shooting rhythm sooner than Goods did at the end of his freshman campaign last winter.

*  Junior forward Taj Finger is an unusual player, who we are still trying to figure out.  Last year when he was matched up against Leon Powe, we expected Finger to be overpowered.  Finger's quickness instead stymied the man-child.  I think that the 6'9" combo forward excels in some surprising matchups where he gives up size.  The converse looked to be the case against Santa Clara, when Finger had some problems against smaller and quicker players.   He looked ineffective on offense, excepting one nice up-and-under play...  Of course, it really didn't help Finger getting jobbed on back-to-back fouls on opposite ends of the floor in the final two minutes of the first half - his second and third whistles of the game.  The first was an absurd pushing call on the offensive end as he grabbed a loose rebound against a smaller player.  The next was a mysterious blocking foul defending in transition against a Bronco who traveled (but no whistle) going to the basket.

*  Whenever I have been asked the last month-plus about this team, my stock answer has been that this team has some young and talented pieces which will provide excitement and surprises at times.  But they will have some excruciating games (and maybe stretches) due to their youth and immaturity.  My addition to that comment has been that I expect some tremendous difficulty on the road, particularly in light of what the breadth of the Pac-10 is achieving in this preseason.  Wins away from Maples will be precious few this year, with a lineup full of players who have never had significant roles at this level in these environments.  I reminded myself of this last night, and I suppose I may have to amend the "on the road" bit.  It looks like this squad has the ability to struggle mightily on any floor.

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