10 Takeaways: MBB at Arizona

There is much to discuss and dissect from Saturday's Stanford-Arizona game in Tucson. The Wildcats looked every bit of their #7 ranking, yet the young Cardinal made hard charges at the Wildcats and in fact led by as many as five points in the second half. It was a combo-coming out party for the Lopez Twins, plus eventful play on the wing and at the point for Stanford.

*  Our charge is to cover the Cardinal, but it is important to comment on the Wildcats after this performance.  Arizona looked many times in this game like an offensive Stradivarius.  Later in the season, we will see the statistics and accomplishments of this Arizona team that fairly stack it as one of the very best teams in the nation and one of the most offensively impressive opponents on the entire Stanford schedule.  That being said, Stanford's defense gave Arizona countless wide-open looks both on the perimeter and laying the ball in at the hoop.  The Cardinal were valiant and impressive with their runs that pulled them back into the game and even into the lead in the second half, in the face of the Wildcats' offense.  But Stanford will have a painful film session when they review the tape of the numerous defensive mistakes in both zone and man defense that gave Arizona high-percentage opportunities.  The Wildcats are good offensively, but their shooting (66% from the field and 88% three-pointers in the first half; 61% from the field and 80% three-pointers for the game) looked eerily like their pregame warm-up drills - sans defense - for a reason.

*  The story of the game, however, was the Lopez twins for Stanford.  Robin Lopez has had his moments this year, and Brook Lopez broke out at the Texas Tech game.  The freshmen seven-footers had nevertheless never previously made this level of combined impact in a college game, and it is a delightful hint of what is yet to come.  31 points, 16 rebounds (10 offensive) and three blocks.  Their size, athleticism and long arms were the reason Stanford competed for so long in this game.  Time after time, we saw a Stanford miss tipped back in or tipped to Stanford arms by a Lopez hand that rose above or stretched ahead of the Wildcats.  Several of their offensive rebounds were simply astounding, with a long rebound three or more feet away from their position but a long arm that stretched in cartoonish fashion just above the grasp of an Arizona athlete.  Brook Lopez' seven offensive rebounds matched the total of the entire Arizona team!  Stanford's 21 offensive rebounds were a season-high by a solid margin.  Brook Lopez put the Cardinal on his back late in the first half when Arizona looked like could run away with the game.  Nobody else could find the bottom of the basket but Brook Lopez, who started his scoring with a nice eight-foot baseline jump hook.  Next it was a pair of buckets in the paint, the first after an offensive rebound he corralled and the second drawing a foul for a three-point play.  He finished his streak of nine straight points for Stanford with an emphatic dunk.  Robin Lopez continued the momentum right out of the gate after halftime with a pair of scores in the paint off Mitch Johnson feeds, and suddenly Stanford was within five.  A little later, Robin Lopez made a one-handed offensive rebound and putback to cut the deficit to two points.  Brook Lopez drew a foul and hit the free throws that put Stanford into the lead.  Next Robin Lopez had yet another putback on another offensive rebound (off a Brook Lopez offensive rebound + miss), extending the lead to three points.  Brook Lopez widened the margin with a one-handed offensive rebound and tip-in.  When Stanford made its runs late in the first half and early in the second half, it was a whole lot of Lopez.  A number of these plays came with the two brothers on the floor together, showing us really for the first time this year the synergy that can come with the pair of seven-footers in the paint.

*  Another notable was the number of minutes for sophomore Anthony Goods at point guard.  We had seen that only a minute at a time in a couple games this year, but the 6'4" shooter took the mantle of lead ballhandler for the Cardinal for a surprising stretch of more than four minutes during the Arizona State game two nights ago.  The Goods point guard experiment was expanded further today with his playing 40% of his minutes atop the offense.  His shooting day was beyond horrible (2-of-12 three pointers and 4-of-16 from the field), but Stanford saw some spurts on the scoreboard when Goods played the point.  Statistically, his three assists versus zero turnovers was encouraging, relative to some of his passing and turnovers this season.  One area where Goods can be effective at the point against a zone defense, which was frequently employed by Arizona, is the credible offensive threat he presents when taking the ball off the dribble from the perimeter.  Mitch Johnson frequently takes one or two dribbles inside the arc, feigning drives and then passing to the wing, but the defense seldom bites.  One such example grabbed my attention in the opening moments of the second half, and I made a mental note to include it here.  Of course, Johnson countered me the next time he touched the ball, driving deep into the paint, drawing the defense and allowing him to assist an open shooter...  It should also be noted that Goods' only two made three-pointers came when he played off the ball at the shooting guard position.  He was oh-fer in his outside shooting while at the point.

*  Arizona killed Stanford with the two-man game numerous times in this affair.  Operating with a high screen 20 feet from the basket, the Wildcats would typically use Ivan Radenovic to screen a Cardinal guard (Goods or Johnson), allowing typically Mustafa Shakur to drive toward the basket undefended.  The man who appeared to be most often caught unaware on these screens was Brook Lopez.  He several times blew switches that allowed wide-open Arizona offense.  Whether you can chalk up that deficiency to his poor high school coaching or the huge chunk of basketball he missed in the late summer and fall with his back injury and surgery, it is clear that he needs education and improvement...  It is unfair to nitpick after a landmark game they enjoyed, but the Lopez Twins have another area where they need work.  Their passing to each other initiated from the high post seldom reached its fraternal target today.  In a game where Stanford had 23 assists to 13 turnovers, that may seem like one of the last points to critique.  But each turnover is costly in a game this tight - particularly when playing against such a hot and potent offensive team.

Fred Washington is better and better embracing his role of doing all the little things.  He is the leading sparkplug for the team when they become offensively stagnant, attacking the basket.  He is a creator and an enthusiastic passer who enjoys making his teammates better.  He is an aggressive rebounder and easily tops the team in charges taken.  Washington led Stanford today with eight assists versus just two turnovers.  It is debatable whether Washington can be and was today too unselfish, scoring zero points in 37 minutes.  The senior small forward could have taken more cracks at the basket against Arizona's zone defense, but more on that a little later.  My pet peeve with Washington from his first three years still remains, and I mention it here because of a glaring example late in the second half.  Arizona turned the ball over on a play, which Washington collected and took on a fast break.  Only Shakur separated him from the other basket, with a wide-open court in which to operate in transition.  Washington raced up the floor on the left half of the court with Shakur to the right.  Washington not only made a line straight at the lone defender, but he did so dribbling with his right hand.  Washington could not go to his left, and the play ended with a harmless foul that turned a fast break opportunity into an in-bounds play.  Washington is an exciting athlete and has many positive intangibles, but he is so painfully unskilled in Year Four of his college career.  He could be such a better basketball player if he would only improve his skill level.  His passing ability is strong, buoyed by his instincts and unselfishness - give him credit there.  But Washington's handle often marginalizes his athleticism when he attacks the basket, sometimes leading to unnecessarily charges or turnovers.  If he could ever channel his on-court energy toward off-season and practice work on handling and shooting the basketball, Washington could be an all-conference level player.

*  What was missing from Washington, and from Stanford in general, this afternoon was the offensive threat to take a defender off the dribble and attack the basket.  Considering the number of possessions and the pace at which the first half was played, it was incredible and deplorable that Arizona only had three team fouls until four seconds before halftime.  Stanford shot two free throws in the first half and just five in the second half.  Arizona went to the line 26 times in the game and there picked up 21 points.  That was not hometown cooking by the officials.  It was a difference of offensive mentality by the two teams, with Arizona attacking and Stanford taking jumpshots.  Washington and Goods are probably the only two players on the entire Stanford roster who can and will drive all the way to the basket - that is a problem more troublesome than Stanford's three-point shooting and is a greater contributing factor to why teams will play zone defense against Stanford.  I have a hard time remembering a halfcourt drive to the basket that terminated in that ballhandler scoring beyond the Goods drive against Marcus Williams in the third minute of the first half.  It is a miracle that Stanford hung around as long as they did without getting points at the charity stripe.  It is also an important reason why they could not hang for the total 40 minutes.

*  The other facet of Stanford's predilection for shooting the basketball today was a high number of three-pointers hoisted.  Against Arizona's zone defense, the Cardinal bombed away with 24 three-point attempts.  Only seven connected for 29%.  To put that in perspective, Stanford never took that many three-point shots in any game of the 2005-06 season, despite having long-range threats Chris Hernandez and Dan Grunfeld on the floor.  Only three times all year last winter did the Cardinal even attempt 20 three-pointers.  Interestingly, two of those occasions came against Arizona (both 9-of-21, though the game in Tucson went to overtime).  Goods' 12 three-point attempts today were more than any game during the Cardinal careers of noted three-point threats like Hernandez, Grunfeld and Matt Lottich.  Only one time all of last season did any Stanford player reach double digits in long-range shooting, and that was the Arizona game at Maples Pavilion when Hernandez was feeling it in a 7-of-11 afternoon.  The last time any Stanford player hoisted 12 three-pointers in a single game came four years ago, when Julius Barnes was 6-of-12 from deep in a 29-point performance and victory over Washington.  Goods' 2-of-12 three-point shooting and 4-of-16 overall effort from the field today is unfortunately one for the annals for the wrong reasons.

*  In sharp contrast to Goods, sophomore Lawrence Hill had another excellent game shooting the basketball.  He was 8-of-14 from the field and 3-of-6 from three-point range.  The 6'8" sophomore looked silky smooth from both mid-range and the perimeter.  Hill's scoring in both halves provided huge lifts.  His defense is another story for another time, but Hill's offense is the most impressive and most consistent on the roster - and it is not even close.  Kudos to the Arizona native, also, for putting up 20 points against the Wildcats, who recruited but did not offer him.  Hill totaled 33 points in his home state.  He also has now scored in double figures and shot 50% or better from the field in every game away from Maples Pavilion this season...  Also, freshman Landry Fields had another nice "spark" game shooting the basketball in the first half off the bench.  He finished the preseason a 20% shooter from three-point range with just four makes in 20 attempts but Thursday night at Arizona State drilled three three-pointers in a first-half performance that created the Cardinal's comfortable lead they maintained after halftime.  Fields drilled a pair of three-pointers in back-to-back attempts late in the first half today, as well.  He commented after his outing in Tempe that he needed a game like that - for shots to fall and confidence to build for the freshman.  You could see that confidence today, and it should pay dividends for Fields and Stanford as the season progresses.

*  He logged just one minute in the game, and he did not play at all two nights ago in Tempe.  With the arrival of Goods as Stanford's backup point guard to Johnson, the odd man left out appears to be fifth-year senior Carlton Weatherby.  The quick Cardinal point guard had just 73 seconds on the floor today but made the most of his opportunity.  He entered the game with Stanford down 10 points at the 1:17 mark late in the first half and offered an immediate spark.  Weatherby threw a skip pass over the top of the defense that found Goods on the opposite wing, which assisted a rare three-pointer.  Weatherby harassed Arizona point guard Mustafa Shakur coming back the other way and eventually poked the ball away from behind, which led to a fastbreak flush by junior Taj Finger.  That quick 5-0 run sparked by Weatherby in the span of less than 30 seconds was a big lift for Stanford going into halftime.  The question for Trent Johnson is when to employ Weatherby on the floor.  Weatherby's defense is his strength, and there should be more times this season when foul situations, clock situations and temp could call for his entrance.

*  I admit my surprise that Stanford is playing so tough away from Maples Pavilion.  I thought it a cinch that this ultra-green roster would play some pretty bad basketball on the road for the most part this season.  The level of difficulty of Stanford's opponents away from home should further magnify the frailties that come with such a young roster (who by the way are currently without injured junior center Peter Prowitt).  But I could contend that the Cardinal have put together their four best performances of the season all outside of Maples.  The other three away/neutral games were wins, while this was a loss, of course.  One important difference was that Stanford played standout defense in the other three games (37.9% field goals allowed vs. Texas Tech, 40.4% at Fresno State and 44.2% at Arizona State).  Still, it should be pointed out that this young team is playing really tough on the road.  It's surprising, noteworthy and deserving of praise.  There is a difference between playing with mistakes and playing without composure.  The former happened in many stretches today against Arizona, but this young Stanford squad played beyond their years in a packed house of the #7-ranked team in the nation, rallying several times from double-digit deficits.  That was impressive and suggests that this team could pull off some surprises on the road in this conference...  True, Cardinalmaniacs™ can feel good about this game.  Stanford just went into the lair of the Wildcats, rife with talent and firing on all of its offensive cylinders.  The Cardinal not only clawed back after several Arizona runs, but also Stanford made its own charges and actually grabbed the lead in the second half of the game.  They acquitted themselves very well.  However, with the passage of time this one will likely be remembered as "one that got away."  A road win at Arizona would have meant the world to Stanford's postseason résumé, particularly given the paucity of non-conference road opportunities for the Cardinal and the brutally difficult conference schedule that is just underway.

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