Card Can't Enjoy Conference Honors

Youth has been the story for Stanford this season, and the coaches of the Pac-10 agreed today by honoring sophomore Lawrence Hill and freshman Brook Lopez. Hill became a rare Stanford sophomore to collect All-Conference recognition, while Lopez was Honorable Mention and named to the All-Freshman team. Neither could express much joy, however, on this day.

He never reached 25 points in a game.  He ranks outside Stanford's top three scoring games this season.  Just once did he produce a double-double.

But sophomore forward Lawrence Hill today was tabbed with All Pac-10 honors by a vote of the conference's coaches.  It is the first time a second-year Cardinal has earned first team all-conference honors since Casey Jacobsen in 2000-01.  Hill ranks among the Pac-10 leaders in scoring (16.3 ppg), rebounding (6.0 rpg), field goal percentage (.518) and three-point percentage (.422).

His scoring and rebounding highs this year were eclipsed several times over by teammates, but nobody delivered with a consistency that came close to Hill.  His peak scoring came twice in 24-point performances, but he broke 20 points on 10 different occasions.  Hill scored in double figures in all but three games this season.  Other Stanford players - and others around the conference - have been scoring yo-yos this winter, while Hill has scored 15 to 20 points with seeming ease every time on the floor.

"I think he deserves it," says fellow sophomore Anthony Goods of Hill's conference recognition.  "Lawrence has had a great year.  He put in a lot of work.  He's stayed focus, and he's carried our team.  I think he deserves it, and I'm proud of him."

Hill last year as a freshman scored at a clip less than 30 percent what he has averaged this season.  His 4.7 points and 3.4 rebounds per game in 2005-06 included sparkles, but nothing that indicated he could be this good this consistently.  The key for Hill has been the versatility of his offensive game.  He plays both the small and power forward positions for Stanford and carries the ability to score near the basket as well as from deep.

"I always knew he could shoot, but I didn't think he would be able to finish through contact the way he does now," Goods comments on Hill's impressive year-over-year improvement.  "Sometimes in pickup games, he would be settling for jumpshots, and you would be wondering why he wouldn't use his length in the paint.  I think that is what really changed his game this year - his ability to mix it up, scoring in the post as well as scoring from the outside.  That's what has made him so consistent this year."

While his classmate and good friend was all smiles today upon Hill's All Pac-10 honor, the 6'8" sophomore met the news with less exuberance.

"It's not really a goal of mine," Hill says of the conference honor.  "I want to go out and help us win the Pac-10 Tournament now, one game at a time."

The gloom hanging over Hill has everything to do with an overtime loss on Saturday to Arizona.  The Wildcats became the only team in the Pac-10 to sweep Stanford in the regular season.  The Cardinal had swept or split the series with each of their other eight conference opponents.

"Every loss matters more and more each time it happens," Hill explains.  "I hope we can end our streak - I think it's losing six games to [Arizona] now.  But it didn't happen."

Saturday's loss came in Stanford's regular season finale and leave the Cardinal 1-3 in their last four games.  Just a few weeks ago, Stanford was in contention for the Pac-10 title, and with their recent swoon, they are squarely on the bubble for an NCAA Tournament bid.  Hill is hungry to win this week in Los Angeles at the Pac-10 Tournament, starting with USC on Thursday, to right the ship.

"I think we should go out with the mindset of making it easier on ourselves and putting it in our hands," Hill says of Stanford's NCAA fate.  "If we win, then that makes us more deserving to go ahead."

"We've been through a lot, but I think the mindset of the whole team is that we know we have a lot more to go through until we can feel worthy of it," the sophomore continues.  "We all understand that we would like to be there, but we need to go out and prove it, which we didn't do on Saturday.  We get another shot on Thursday."

Earning Honorable Mention All Pac-10 honors and All-Freshman recognition today was freshman power forward/center Brook Lopez.  There may be no hotter player in the conference the past three weeks, with Lopez scoring 20-plus points in five of his last six games.  The 7'0" freshman missed Stanford's first five games of the season, following August back surgery.  He did not enter the starting lineup until January, after which time the Cardinal went on a tear.

Lopez' signature game came on January 25 at Maples Pavilion against USC, when he recorded the school's first ever triple-double: 18 points, 11 rebound and 12 blocked shots.  He obliterated the previous single-game record of six blocks.  His defense and rebounding were a presence in other games, but it was Lopez' offense that made the biggest splash.  No bigger compliment could be offered for his offensive potency than the double-teams he saw from nearly every opponent on most possessions the last couple months.  It came as no surprise, then, that Lopez would pick up these conference awards today.

"It's a nice honor," he says.  "I'm very proud but wondering why Robin didn't make it.  I guess it's not up to me."

Brother Robin Lopez has also made an impressive impact, though more so in the beginning of the season.  While Brook was out of action and then working his way into form, Robin started all games at center for Stanford.  He scored double figures in 10 of the first 16 games, played big minutes and was a dominating force on defense - rebounding and blocking shots.  Robin's production (and correspondingly, his confidence) waned as Brook became a focus of the offense and played more minutes.  Robin last scored more than eight points in the January 18 game at Oregon (10 points).

Still, Brook Lopez feels that his brother was snubbed by being left off the All-Freshman voting.  He in fact feels that Robin was more deserving of today's honors than he was.

"I think so," Brook maintains.  "Better than a lot of people, honestly...  He brings so many intangibles, along with his defense and offense.  He just brings so much energy to the game."

Both Brook Lopez and Lawrence Hill have brought a lot to the floor this season, as well.  Following a disappointing loss, neither are rightfully relishing in their well-deserved honors from the conference's coaches today, though.  That may come later, if the Cardinal can regain their winning ways this week in Los Angeles.

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