As the Stanford Band took its seat high up in the rafters of California's Haas Pavilion Saturday afternoon, they tellingly began playing a rendition of 80s one hit wonder Madness' "Our House."
And so it was.
Stanford's 82-77 win over the Bears was in many ways reminiscent of the Card's 67-52 win over then #22 Arizona State a week before. Sure, the score was closer Saturday, but in both Brook Lopez took over the second half, Stanford was able to lock down defensively and the Card crashed the boards while withstanding the other teams' runs.
"A couple times they got a couple lobs, a couple threes, a couple big plays like that and I thought we did a good job of kind of countering their runs and taking some big blows," Mitch Johnson said after the game, "and [we were] staying consistent in what we were doing, getting the ball down to Brook, and not getting away from our game plan and not getting sped up."
All this, and on the road to boot.
This was basketball just like Trent Johnson likes it. "Get it to the big boy on the right block" was the plan, Johnson said, and in the second half the Card executed to perfection. In the first half, despite Brook's foul trouble, the team still succeeded with defense (with both Lopez twins out for a brief spell the Card went to a zone and got back-to-back steals) and patience on the offensive end.
"I thought the tempo was to our liking," Johnson said afterward. "We were making them [Cal] work for whatever they got offensively."
With that effort, combined with the performances from the Band and Dollies during timeouts, one could easily confuse Haas with Maples East. I've never seen a visiting team's mascot take the court during breaks in the action, but there was the Tree Saturday doing his usual routine, adding insult to injury for the Bears' bruised egos.
But back to the hardwood. Any time a team is able to dictate the tempo on the road like that, things are looking good. We saw Stanford fail to slow down the pace earlier this month at Oregon, to disastrous results. Yes, Oregon presented more match-up problems for the Card, but a win is a win—and a road win is even sweeter.
Speaking of the road, the Cardinal will put their recent winning streak to the test at the Washington schools this weekend. This time Stanford won't have anywhere near the fan support as they did Saturday, and the competition will be anything but easy. Washington State is unbeaten at home this season, while the Card hasn't won at Washington in recent memory. Fred Washington told me today he's never won in Seattle, which means it's definitely been a while.
The Huskies bring junior big man Jon Brockman and his averages of 19 points and 11 rebounds over the last 11 games. Stanford's strength has been on the boards this season, but Brockman has the potential to mitigate that advantage. Strong games from the guards will be a must, but while Mitch Johnson is coming off a career game at Cal, Anthony Goods' shooting woes seem to be compounded on the road.
Washington State is undefeated at home for two good reasons: stifling defense and an efficient offense that isn't flashy but limits turnovers. It's not pretty (they are at the bottom of the Pac-10 in home attendance) but they get the job done. While the Card boast a slightly more prolific offensive attack, both teams are atop the conference in scoring defense. Stanford's recent spate of ugly games, combined with the Cougars's trademark style, could make this all but unbearable.
Stanford is 1-7 on the Washington trip the last four years. Even a split would be huge to keep momentum going. Go Card.
Overheard in the 6th Man
By the end of Saturday's game at Cal, the Stanford contingent in the rafters easily overpowered the Berkeley fans in the building, despite my seat right behind the Cal student section. While I couldn't hear any individual insults, I could still hear the more boisterous chants. Some highlights:
"We've got the Axe!" poignantly performed during the pre-game "Hail California." Damn, it feels good to say that.
"N-I-T! N-I-T!" I still remember Chris Hernandez scolding the 6th Man for employing this chant against some disappointing opponent a couple years ago. This year, Cal may be lucky to even make the NIT.
"Just like foot-ball!" The obvious. Also used during the USC game over break. I can't believe I just typed that.
LSJUMB quickly wore out its welcome Saturday after it continued to play during the national anthem. I'm not sure whether it was an intentional irritant or if they just couldn't hear from way up at the top of Haas (it's that big). In either case, they shut up after a few bars, but were unsurprisingly met with resounding boos.
Of course, playing over the good ol Star Spangled Banner is never a classy move, but it was interesting to hear the criticism from the Cal faithful. After all, these are the same Cal fans that yell their own chants, something like "blue" and "gold," over various parts of the anthem. With fans, like referees, consistency is all I ask for…
Where's that draft coming from?
Brook Lopez's recent surge (21.7 points, 8 rebounds, 2.5 blocks in Stanford's last four games) has been rightfully garnering attention nationwide, especially among NBA draft circles. Some mock drafts I've seen since Saturday have him a lock for the top-10, and some even have him in the top five! Nice to see our guy getting recognition, but it's always tough to see them leave early (unless, of course, he gets drafted by my Sacramento Kings).
Like my colleague Dan Novinson, I sat next to a couple of NBA scouts Saturday at Cal. The scout to my left, from the Utah Jazz, was very tight-lipped about Lopez's draft prospects, only saying that Brook was a first-round lock but it was too early to tell how high he would go.
If the draft were tomorrow, Utah would have the 14th pick. At this point, I think it's safe to say Brook will be off the board by then…
Stanford as a team is getting national attention, too. The Cardinal continues its meteoric rise up the rankings, and this week sits at #14 in both the AP and USA Today/ESPN polls—its highest ranking since then #13 Stanford lost its season opener to UC Irvine Nov. 2005.
Trent cares more about conference standings than national rankings. He must be pretty happy, then, considering the Cardinal is now tied with # 9 Washington State for second place in the Pac-10.
"We're getting to where we need to be," Johnson said Saturday night after the game, "and that's staying within striking distance."
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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