Sunday marked his return to the basketball court, conducting an individual workout with an assistant coach. Anthony Goods called it "pretty much pain-free," which paved the way for him to join the team Monday at practice for the first time in more than three weeks, when he went out of action with a high ankle sprain.
"He looked pretty good," says head coach Trent Johnson. "If there are no setbacks, he probably will play on Thursday."
Stanford was a Pac-10 contender and seeming lock for the NCAA Tournament before Goods was lost. They are now on the infamous bubble for a bid to the Big Dance with an 18-11 overall record and a season-ending slide of 1-3 in their last four games, 3-5 in their last eight and 4-6 in their last 10.
Goods has started all 23 games in which he has played this year for Stanford, including the second half of the season as the Cardinal's point guard. He is the Cardinal's second leading scorer at 13.0 points per game and second-best three-point shooter at 36.1 percent. The sophomore is expected to provide an offensive infusion when he rejoins Stanford in the Pac-10 Tournament opener Thursday versus USC.
"I think it will be great because we'll have another outside threat... We can really stretch defenses," says freshman Brook Lopez of the shooter's return. "We can't have defenders sitting in our laps as much in the post."
"I think it will take a lot of pressure off Lawrence [Hill] and Brook, as well as our other scoring options," echoes Goods. "Also defensively, we are now deeper. We have more guards that we can throw at people."
The excitement and optimism at Stanford surrounding Goods' return assumes that he can replicate his pre-injury production and playmaking. The sophomore guard has been off the basketball court since February 11, which has cost him conditioning, timing and rhythm in his offensive game.
"I don't want to put any expectations on the young man, just because he hasn't played for a while," Johnson cautions.
"It's just a matter of my getting back into shape," Goods offers. "I just need to get my lungs back, and I'll be alright."
"I'm not the type to just run away from the pain of getting back into shape," the sophomore says. "It's going to be painful, but I'll be thanking myself later. I really don't want to sit out anymore."
The most difficult basketball move for Goods in his return from the injury is planting off a curl on that ankle. He says that his balance and rhythm will come from repetitions and playing, but he has no prediction for how well he will shoot the ball at the Staples Center. Despite missing the last six-plus games, Goods lead Stanford in both three-point field goals and attempts - his marksmanship is a critical component for the Cardinal's offense and chances versus the Trojans in this must-win game..
"It's going to be interesting because the first thing to go is your legs, and my jumpshot uses a lot of legs," Goods admits.
Interestingly enough, Stanford has shot the long ball better than its season average in each of the last three games - sans Goods. While the hobbled guard is best known for his shooting, the Cardinal may be in greater need of his defense. USC has the most offensively lethal starting threesome of guards/wings in the Pac-10. Gabriel Pruitt (12.1 ppg, 33.3%), Lodrick Stewart (14.3 ppg, 44.7%) and Nick Young (17.5 ppg, 43.8%) are the Trojans' three leading scorers and three best three-point shooters, with Young and Stewart ranking second and fourth in the conference from long range.
"They have three guys who you can't let get in a rhythm," Johnson warns. "You have to really get after them to start with. It's no secret that the guys who are good offensive players, if you let them get uncontested shots or easy shots early, they're going to be tough to deal with. Nick, Lodrick and Pruitt are guys who are really explosive and can get anywhere they want with the basketball. They can create their own shot."
This is a dangerous match-up for a Stanford team that has lacked its defensive and rebounding edges in recent games. The Cardinal rank second in the conference in field goal percentage defense but have not held an opponent below 40% since lowly Oregon State at Maples Pavilion six games ago. Stanford two weeks ago towered above its Pac-10 brethren with a rebounding margin of +7.1 in conference action, yet they have been net negative in rebounding over the span of their last three games. Four games ago, Stanford played these same Trojans and won the rebounding battle but crumbled late in the second half, losing every crucial rebound in a narrow four-point loss.
"We have to be more explosive," says Lopez of the recent rebounding woes. "We keep figuring that someone else will have the rebound when the ball is in the air. Well, if three of us are watching the ball coming down, then three of us have to go get it."
"Go grab it. Go grab the ball. Don't assume that your teammate has it. Be aggressive," Johnson preaches. "And let's don't talk about it. Let's do it. This is not the time of year to start talking about stuff. Get stuff done."
"Look at the last time they played us and beat us," the coach continues. "We broke down defensively and from a rebounding standpoint. We definitely have to get back to blocking out... We need to get back to defending and rebounding with a high energy."
"We can come out and dominate," Hill contends. "That won't happen without our effort involved. The first thing we have to do is talk about our effort, and defensive mostly. That started with me. Nick Young got a lot of easy shots off me. That's basically going to be our mindset - get our defense back up to where it was the first time we played them."
When Stanford and USC first met this year at Maples Pavilion, the Trojans shot 28.4% from the field and 23.5% from three-point range, were outrebounded by seven and had 19 shots swatted.
"I'm feeling very confident," Lopez says of the Pac-10 Tournament quarterfinal match-up. He blocked 12 shots, scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in that first meeting. "For the most part, I feel like we've had two pretty decent games against them. I think it was a good draw getting USC."
"We have to come in with a killer instinct and try to put them away early. Then try and build our lead throughout the game," the freshman opines. "I feel that we've lacked that instinct at some times in games on the road at the end of the season."
Stanford is winless in its last four games away from Maples Pavilion. The only Pac-10 opponents they have defeated this year on the road finished eighth, ninth and 10th in the conference. But few people believe this to be a home/away issue for the Cardinal. Their last two games at home, against Arizona State and Arizona, also both began slow out of the gate.
"I just haven't been pleased with our lack of aggressiveness to start games," Johnson laments. "We were responding instead of being proactive, for whatever reason."
"You think about the whole game and how inconsistent we are," Hill says of the Arizona loss. "When we beat UCLA, it bugged me that we could be such a great team in the second half. I want us to come out and do that both halves. I have to find a way to bring that out of myself, and our team has to find a way to bring that out so we don't have that problem anymore."
Could that be a result of a young team, starting two freshmen and two sophomores?
"It's a lot easier to break down in the second half when you are already down," Hill counters, pointing to the strong performances after halftime.
"I'm not really sure as far as everyone else goes, but I feel a bit mentally fatigued, just dealing with college basketball every single day," Lopez admits. "Again, I'm really confident about what this team can do in the postseason, so I'm not worried at all."
Whether the Cardinal are in trouble or not against the Trojans, there is no doubting the confidence that Lopez, Goods, Hill and the rest of the team are carrying into the Pac-10 Tournament. They have overcome adversity and surpassed expectations all season long, so perhaps the recent slowdown in defense and rebounding will be rectified for this game. Adding a shooter back to the lineup is not the obvious answer, but it could be. We'll find out soon enough.
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