* We have to start by tipping our cap to some very impressive play by the guards of Virginia. The reason this win feels like such a quality win for Stanford is because of the quality of the playmaking Stanford faced and was able to narrowly defeat in Virginia's rocking new arena. We knew how good Sean Singletary and J.R. Reynolds were last year when we scouted the Cavaliers coming to Maples Pavilion for the opening round of the NIT. Both players are better today, with Singletary leading the ACC in scoring. He hit tough shots at big times in this game, and Virginia's guard penetration was nearly unstoppable. What impressed me about Stanford in this game, and I would have felt this way had the Cardinal been on the other side of the one-point decision, was that when Virginia made so many big plays and scores in the second half, Stanford seemed to have an answer almost every time. Watching Singletary go off (and Reynolds scoring all 14 of his points after halftime), it looked like Virginia should start to pull away. The Cardinal somehow kept that from ever happening. Would you believe that Virginia never led by more than four points in the second half? Would you believe that their biggest run was a 10-2 spurt? Basketball is a game of runs, and Stanford delivered the answers every time against a good team on the road in a hostile environment who was shooting 54.2% from the field and 57.1% from three-point range in the second half. They took a good team's best punches and were never knocked down.
* In a one-point game, you can fairly examine literally hundreds of little individual moments, efforts and plays that "made the difference" to win for Stanford or to lose for Virginia. But the one moment that really mattered the most Sunday, no matter how you slice those 40 minutes in Charlottesville, was the final offensive play by Stanford. Senior Fred Washington brought the ball up with 9.4 seconds left in the game and the Cardinal down by one. Traversing the length of the floor, Washington drove against Soloman Tat at the three-point line and penetrated into the paint. That drew Jamil Tucker, who was defending sophomore Lawrence Hill. Washington leapt into the air and dished the ball to his left to Hill. Hill put the ball on the floor with a single dribble and pulled up in the face of Tat for a short jumper that pulled itself over the front rim and dropped down with 0.9 seconds on the clock. Virginia threw a three-quarters heave that of course had no chance, and Stanford celebrated the upset. It was a heroic combination: the drive and dish by Washington, showing no hesitation and managing to not incur a charging foul, as well as the shot by Hill with a defender who chested him. The play has to go down as one of the best end-game plays in the history of this program. The magnitude of the game slots this play a notch behind the Casey Jacobsen's bank shot to beat Duke, Nick Robinson's 35-foot buzzer beater to beat Arizona and the Arthur Lee steal and Mark Madsen dunk in the Elite Eight against Rhode Island. But this play belongs in the same breath of the Kris Weems full-court drive and shot in five seconds to beat Washington in Seattle. I would probably rate it ahead of the Matt Lottich desperation three-pointer falling out of bounds to beat Washington State at the buzzer in Pullman.
* You may not have noticed, but Stanford started the game with a defensive gameplan to employ its 2-3 zone after made baskets and free throws. The Cardinal hit several shots early, so we saw the Stanford zone on display right away. As soon as freshman Brook Lopez drained that scintillating 18-foot jumper on Stanford's opening offensive possession, the Cardinal raced back down the floor to set up their zone. The result? A wide-open three-pointer by Singletary on the very first possession, which he nailed. Virginia had wide-open looks the next two times Stanford was in their zone defense, as well. The Cavs missed both, but one was put back on an offensive rebound. After the 16-minute media timeout, when junior Taj Finger substituted for Brook Lopez at power forward, I don't know that Stanford played a single possession of zone defense the rest of the way. The Cardinal played man defense the rest of the way, which I do not believe was the plan. Just a lesson in how things can change in a game relative to what a carefully constructed coaching plan lays out.
* Also in the "it's not how you start but how you finish" category, this was the first game at Stanford where the Lopez twins started together on the floor. Robin Lopez has started all 13 games he has played at Stanford, but brother Brook missed the entire preseason and did not start playing until November 28. Everybody's favorite story Sunday was the Lopez twins starting and playing together; however, the reality is that they played just 6:08 of total time together in the second half of the game. After the the first media timeout of the second half, the Lopez twins played together less than two minutes. Stanford played some pretty good offense down the stretch in this game, scoring not just 51.7% from the field in the second half but also on 11 of its final 14 possessions. The Lopez twins were a huge part of that, hitting big shots from mid-range that Virginia could not defend. First it was Brook Lopez (12 points, 6-of-10 field goals) knocking down a pair. Then he fouled out, and Robin Lopez (15 points, 6-of-10 field goals) came onto the floor and soon hit back-to-back sky hooks. Those plays and the fact that the twins started together will forever be tattooed onto your Cardinal conscience, but you may not remember that it was almost all accomplished on Lopez at a time... Also, freshman Landry Fields played all but about 90 seconds of the final eight and a half minutes of the game, including the crucial final 2:30. That was a big vote of confidence for the 6'6" wing, who has grown by leaps and bounds the past two weeks. He has stepped up and hit huge shots in the Arizona State, Arizona and now the Virginia games. Fields shot a combined 6-of-11 from downtown in those three games, with only an 0-2 performance at home against Cal sandwiched between. In Charlottesville, he also added a driving lay-up and five assists for a solid game. Fields did not start, but he did finish the Virginia game and is maturing before our eyes.
* Sophomore Anthony Goods has only shot the ball better than 30% from three-point range twice in December and January thus far. His 3-of-7 performance from deep at Virginia was a welcome sign, but the rest of his game left something to be desired. Starting and playing extensive minutes at point guard, Goods recorded just one assist in 30 minutes of play. Maybe more concerning is the fact that his drives to the basket were so unproductive. He shot just 1-of-5 inside the arc, turned the ball over three times and never reached the free throw line. Goods is actually shooting worse from two-point range (32.1%) than three-point range (34.8%) this year. He has to come up with something positive on offense outside of his outside shooting, which has itself been quite rocky. Get to the line, create for a teammate or score.
* Stanford almost lost another game by allowing its opponent to get to the free throw line more than they did. Virginia had 31 attempts at the charity stripe to Stanford's 22. Watching the unstoppable dribble-penetration by Virginia's guards, which is as much a credit to their talent as a discredit to Stanford's ability to defend them, it is not a great surprise that the Cavs had many free throw chances. But this is what Stanford has to fix. The Cardinal had too many unnecessarily and pointless defensive fouls away from the basket. A few that come to mind include Landry Fields swiping at the ball 30-plus feet from the basket when Virginia was in single digits on the shot clock, Mitch Johnson's reach at a similar distance, Brook Lopez' steal attempt at the three-point line and his reach as somebody else's man ran past him without the ball 16 feet from the basket. That last foul by Brook Lopez was his fifth and came with 6:58 left in the game. Incredible. Defensive fouls are not created equal. Some are necessary and strive to stop a score, but the plays that terminate an opponent's possession deep in the shot clock and put him on the free throw line are a fast path to failure.
* It's hard to not feel disppointed for junior center Peter Prowitt. This home-and-home series was scheduled in part to give him a homecoming game in his backyard, with friends and family able to watch him. Prowitt unfortunately has battled injuries this season, and he mustered the most brief of appearances in this just his fourth game of the year. Prowitt can be an effective player, but he has a history of difficulty when initially returning from injury. That proved to be the case Sunday, with two fouls in less than 90 seconds on the floor in the first half. The first came on his first touch since December 3, trying to drive 10 feet from the basket and shoving his defender to the ground. Then on the other end of the floor on the ensuing defensive possession, Prowitt eight seconds later came out hard when his man was screening Goods and plowed hard into a Virginia guard. The 6'10" junior went to the bench and never returned. The win was sweet, but that was hardly the homecoming Prowitt deserved. On the plus side, this was the first (albeit painful) step toward Prowitt returning to the Stanford post rotation. He can certainly help this team.
* Virginia head coach Dave Leitao went on and on in his post-game press conference about Virginia's defense and how terribly they performed in allowing Stanford to score throughout the game. "Defensively, we weren't very good all day... We never had any defensive rhythm... I didn't have really have faith all game long in what we were trying to do defensively." Those are unexpected and amusing comments to hear from an opposing coach regarding this Stanford team and their offense, which has had tremendous struggles in several games this season. Moreover, Stanford didn't quite burn up the nets in this game. They shot just 45.8% from the field for the game, which judged against Pac-10 season field goal percentages ranks a meager sixth. The Cardinal did close with a strong offensive second half, particularly down the stretch. That had to distort Leitao's performances of what happened "all day." A cynic would say that Stanford shooting 45% from the field is a terrible job by the opposing defense, considering how poor the Cardinal have been offensively in some recent performances.
* This is just me, but I think what really sticks in Leitao's craw is that he was just swept home and away by a team he wanted to beat and felt he should have beaten on Sunday, with both losses tremendously deflating. The defeat at Maples Pavilion last year not only ended the Cavaliers' season in the opening game of the NIT, but it also embarrassed the proud ACC team that had beaten North Carolina and Boston College. Virginia was held to a season-low 49 points while shooting 36.8% from the field and 10% from three-point range. But that was a young and thin Cavs squad who brought back every ounce of their firepower and indeed were off to a strong start with a much deeper and more experienced squad this year. Virginia was 7-0 at home in their new $130 million rocking John Paul Jones Arena, including wins over Arizona and Gonzaga. Leitao had to expect that his team could and should beat Stanford in Charlottesville on Sunday, given the role reversal of travel/home, the experience levels of the two teams and their respective recent performances. A head coach has a hard time hiding his true feelings in a press conference immediately following a loss. Last year Leitao lamented Virginia's difficulties on offense that had surfaced throughout the season, but he offered sincere praise for Stanford's ability to move the ball around and shoot it on offense, as well as the Cardinal's team defense. There was no discernable praise offered for Stanford after this game. I believe this loss bothers him a little extra because Virginia suffered their first ever blemish in their unbeatable new arena against a foe with whom they are battling in the recruiting wars. Now Stanford has swept them home and away with both a veteran team and an ultra-green group.
* It sure is fun for fans to watch Stanford play this caliber of a non-conference game, against an ACC opponent with a national television audience and attention, during the conference season. We love this stuff. The question Cardinalmaniacs™ ask is why this can't be done every year. To help answer that question, let us explore a poorly scheduled and a smartly scheduled trip back East. The infamous UConn game during the 1997-98 Final Four season was an utter disaster, played all the way across the country in February. After playing Cal on a Wednesday night, they spent Thursday traveling, practiced Friday and then played a noon Eastern game that was 9am Pacific time. The Huskies hammered Stanford by 20 points. It was a traumatic experience that negatively affected Mike Montgomery for years to follow, reticent toward future such travels. What was done better with this trek to Charlottesville? It also followed a Wednesday night Cal game, but the team had Thursday off and left campus Friday morning at 5am. That allowed the team to rest a day and also start adjusting their bodies' clocks. The game was not until Sunday, which gave more than 48 hours in Virginia prior to tip-off. The game started at a much more normal 5pm Eastern/2pm Pacific time. Perhaps the best aspect of this scheduled game is that all of that took place while Stanford was still on winter break. The new quarter of classes started today, which allowed the team to travel both going to and returning from Virginia on optimal basketball rather than academic terms. Replicating all of these conditions under the constraints of the opponent's schedule, the Pac-10 schedule and Stanford's academic schedule is tough. But it was at least this one time done about as well as one can imagine.
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