Stanford went inside, went inside again, and, for good measure, went inside some more. Brook Lopez finished with 23 points, Mitch Johnson added 16, the team grabbed 21 offensive boards and Stanford muscled its way to an 82-77 victory over undersized Cal.
Chit-chatted with an NBA scout before the tip. He agreed Brook Lopez and Ryan Anderson are obvious NBA material, but when I pressed him on Robin, he hemmed and hawed, but eventually said, "If I were you, I'd tell him to stay in school." Of course, that was before he grabbed 10 offensive rebounds and displayed the quickness to stay with Anderson (and no, I would never read his notes off his Palm Pilot.) For what it's worth, the four Stanford guys on his watch list were the twins, Anthony Goods and Lawrence Hill.
The most notable developments in the game to my eyes, in no particular order:
1. After two quick fouls limited him to five scoreless first-half minutes, Brook Lopez played an exceptional second, and single-handedly carried his team to the W. He finished with 23 points on 7-of-11 overall shooting and 9-of-15 free-throw shooting. Ben Braun said a key was that Lopez became more aggressive positioning himself in the deep paint as the game wore on, and once he got the ball sufficiently low, there was nothing Cal could do to stop him:
"I think the key was he did a great job of securing his post position; he had some great reposts," Ben Braun said. "In the second half, by the time he got the ball deep in the paint, the double was ineffective -- it was too late. We didn't get down on him soon enough."
Keep in mind, Brook had his 23-point half against DeVon Hardin, a projected mid-first-rounder. And even sweeter, reposting aggressively is exactly what Trent said Brook needed to improve last week. Check.
Brook needs to work hard on his two Achilles heels, conditioning and foul trouble. Because when Brook's not stopping himself, I haven't found a player in this conference who can. There's no doubt in my mind Stanford loses this game without him.
2. Mitch Johnson – shot-put form and sharpshooter results. 16 points on 4-of-6 overall shooting, 3-of-5 accuracy deep and 5-of-6 on the stripe. Six boards and a 7-to-1 ballhandling ratio. He played out of his mind and Braun knows it:
"Mitch shot the ball well and I think you have to live with some of those shots," Braun said. "You can't live with second-chance points and putbacks."
He's right, you can live with giving Mitch those looks and I wouldn't expect him to have another game like this awhile, but it was sure nice while it lasted. Postgame, I asked Mitch about his performance:
"I knew Randle was going to be real aggressive. I knew I wanted to play some D, make him stay honest early. He was playing rover or doubling down on Brook, so we got a turn we did a good job getting out the first or second play, and swung it to Anthony and to me."
Mitch is talking about his first three of the day, which put Stanford up 6-4. All fans asked of him a year ago was to do enough offensively to keep opponents honest. Ta-da, folks.
3. The other wings – eeek. Drew Shiller hit two huge threes, but Jerome Randle was much too fast for him defensively. Four fouls in nine minutes all too plainly evidence that. Randle's fast, but he's not Tajuan Porter fast, and Shiller's lack of a higher gear means he will only be able to play in spurts moving forward. In other words, tonight was as good as it can get for him.
In terms of importance though, Shiller's problems pale in comparison to Anthony Goods', Lawrence Hill's, and to a lesser extent, Landry Fields'. Goods only played five second-half minutes and 19 total. Lawrence Hill played 26, but only 12 in the second-half, and save for two huge offensive boards off one-and-one misses, they were a quiet 26 minutes. Fields also regressed to the Landry of late-2007. The three combined to shoot 7-of-26, 3-of-9 deep and average just six points.
Fred Washington, props on the 4-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, but you took just one shot and scored only four points in 30 minutes. That might be a good strategy (and he did appear to pass up good looks) when Brook's so dominant, but Aron Baynes, Jon Brockman and their respective teammates are good enough to largely neutralize our edge in the paint.
The wings need to match their level of play to Robin and Brook's, which is Final Four-caliber right now.
It's especially frustrating because Goods and Hill have been in a slump the whole season. Two months ago, Johnson was denying it, but he knows it now, and besides, his minutes distribution doesn't lie:
"I thought some guys were really pressing," he said. "I tried to get them to relax on the offensive end and let the ball go. … Anthony, Lawrence, Landry, those shots will go down."
Of course, his next sentence might have been the most important of the night:
"But the thing I like is, we're getting where we need to be."
Just before the Arizona games, he said we still had a ways to go. Guess past years don't lie and Trent Johnson teams really do peak as the season progress. Hopefully, Stanford can hang onto that momentum an additional two months this time around.
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