From the beginning, I could tell it was going to be a long afternoon.
How did I know? Well, for starters, the game wasn't even on. Thanks to some producer's genius decision at CBS, the NFL post-game talking head recap was apparently more important than live college hoops - the network didn't cut over to the game until around the 15-minute mark. From there, CBS could never quite win me back.
It was an educational afternoon, to be sure. Thanks to a CBS announcing duo that scrounged the media guide for every possible nugget of information, I learned that Stanford is a basketball team filled with future film directors and politicians. That was news to me, even though I know several of the players well.
I think it was also news to the players.
To be fair, the announcers are just trying to add color to the broadcast, and all they have to work with is a media guide filled with tepid blurbs and half-hearted "future plans" that the players fill out at the beginning of the season. It is nice to see the players draw attention for their off-court interests, but just because Fred Washington is a political science major doesn't mean the guy is going to be running for city council after graduation (although he's close to being constitutionally eligible to run for president). Instead of hearing how his knee is feeling or how he's been working on his jump shot, we learned that Washington has yet to endorse a presidential candidate in the California primary election (he is weighing his options between Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, as it turns out).
There were other priceless moments, too. A Lawrence Hill three-pointer harkened comparisons to "the Hill of yonder" (was that the Hill over yonder? The Hill of yore?). A perfectly run pick-and-roll between Mitch Johnson and Taj Finger was "Finger lickin' good!" I could go on, but I'll spare you.
I like to consider myself an optimist, however, and there's always a silver lining. Because I spent the day in San Francisco, I watched the game on TiVo later in the evening. I must have received the official TiVo mercy because the two-hour recording timed out with two minutes left in the game. I'm not making this up - with two minutes left, and the game tied, my screen freezes, and I am asked whether I'd like to save the recording or delete it.
I hear that Oregon went on a run and Stanford's offense completely collapsed in those last two minutes. I guess I should be glad I didn't see them. I'll just pretend they never happened.
Let's just hope the team doesn't.
Two for the price of one
Speaking of silver linings, what is nicer than having another Lopez on the bench when the other needs a breather? Playing them both at the same time. Against Oregon, more than I've ever seen before, the Lopez twins demonstrated a crafty two-man game that could be dangerous, if perfected. The two executed a nice give-and-go on one occasion, something I'd like to see a lot more of down the road this season. Neither is quite Kevin Love in terms of moving without the ball or passing skills, but the offensive versatility and teamwork is encouraging.
Matchup of the day
This clearly has to go to Taj Finger vs. Maarty Leunen. An epic battle between two of the best names in college hoops. Unfortunately, Leunen was often the only big on the floor for Oregon, thus he was matched up against one of the Lopez twins for most of the game. Unfortunate for Stanford as well, considering Leunen's speed on the perimeter gave the twins fits on defense. I liked Finger on Leunen for defensive reasons, but as we saw Sunday afternoon, no Cardinal, save for Brook Lopez, was worth a darn on the offensive end.
I don't like to give too much praise to the opposition, but I liked some of what I heard from the Oregon fans. My friends on the football team say the Duck football faithful are among the loudest, and it appeared that the hoops fans held their own as well. There was one specific chant that stood out in my mind: After Brook Lopez was fouled with just under a minute left in the first half, the Oregon student section started chanting "Take his whi-stle!" at the offending referee. Never heard that one before, and I think I may co-opt it sometime for the 6th Man.
Oh, and there was that other game...
Much like last week's column, where I spent less time on Kevin Love because he is in fact as good as advertised, I won't go into too much detail dissecting Thursday's win over Oregon State. Although, as Trent Johnson is wont to say, every team in the Pac-10 can win on any given night, this was a game Stanford was expected to win, and took care of handily. In a conference like this, you need to win against less talented teams, and the Cardinal did just that Thursday.
My takeaway from the game? Lawrence Hill is back! The junior forward led the Cardinal with 13 points, shooting well from the field (4-for-9) and beyond (3-of-4 three-point attempts). Earlier in the week, Hill had said it was only a matter of time before he flipped the switch. Hopefully, it can stay on.
I am going to claim full credit here. Of course, Hill's comeback came a day before my article about the slump was set to come out in The Stanford Daily. Timing, they say, is everything.
Looming on the horizon for the Cardinal is none other than perennial powerhouse Arizona. Sure, the Wildcats are 1-2 in conference play so far, but don't believe for a second that they're an easy win. Losing at home to Oregon came as a slight surprise, but last Wednesday's loss to Arizona State in overtime could have gone either way. Something's not completely right without Lute Olson on the sidelines, but the team is still talented and dangerous.
Who am I most excited to watch? Freshman point guard Jerryd Bayless. Bayless was out with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee for Arizona's first four games, but returned with a vengeance Saturday, dropping 33 points and 9 assists as the Wildcats downed Houston 85-71. He's got nice height for a point guard and is quick and athletic.
I have selfish reasons for wanting to see Bayless, as my hometown NBA team (the Sacramento Kings) is struggling, and may have a nice lottery pick come June. The Kings have done well with Arizona point guards (see Bibby, Mike) and it's all but certain Bibby will be gone by the end of the season. It's still a mystery whether Bayless will declare for the draft, but barring some miracle in which the Kings drafted Derrick Rose, Bayless would be my pick as the next best point guard.
Sunday's loss meant previous-No. 23 Stanford was the only team to drop out of the AP poll. The Cardinal still garnered 53 votes, good for 27th place and well ahead of Oregon (39) and Arizona (5). The Wildcats joined Stanford as the only two teams to drop from the ESPN/USA Today top-25 as well. Arizona State was a newcomer in both polls, but we'll see how long that lasts after this weekend's Bay Area trip. The Pac-10 is still holding its own in the RPI rankings, meaning that the conference should still be well-represented come tournament time.
Patrick Fitzgerald covers men's basketball as well as the occasional news story for The Stanford Daily. Have some dirt on an opposing player or a good idea for a 6th Man chant? Email him at email@example.com.
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