Editor's Note: The following blog/commentary offers the writer's "real-time" views of the on-court performances and decisions of our men's basketball team. In no way should constructively-intended criticism be deemed as a lack of respect or admiration for our team's obvious desire and commitment.
Writer's Note: Since I figure so many of you are watching this live, I'm going to try to collect myself and file 10 more in-depth thoughts every four minutes or so (corresponding with the media timeouts) instead of giving a running play-by-play.
Time: 14:34 left first half
Score: Stanford 14, UCLA 4
What happened: UCLA forgot to guard down low. Robin Lopez has six, his brother has two and guards Anthony Goods and Mitch Johnson a combined six, all on layups. The looks have all been point-blank, and so Stanford's 7-of-9 from the field. Stanford turned it over three times early, but UCLA can't hit an open shot to save their lives – they're just 2-of-9. Law Hill got the start for Fred Washington (is Washington 100 percent healthy?) and looked slow early on Josh Shipp, who missed two wide-open threes off the same play – a double screen at the right elbow.
UCLA needs to: Wake up. Play defense from 18 feet and in and make an open shot.
Stanford needs to: Start doubling Love, who's scored all four UCLA points off Robin Lopez. Stop turning it over. And figure out a way to stop giving UCLA all the open looks – they will start making them.
Time: 11:43 left first half
Score: Stanford 19, UCLA 9
What happened: Love threw down a dunk and Collison nailed an open three, but Goods countered with a three and Brook Lopez split a double on the right block. Howland pulled Love out of the game for dribbling behind his back on a drive. Stanford has four fouls to UCLA's none. Taj Finger and Fred Washington have checked in for Robin Lopez and Law Hill.
UCLA needs to: Start collapsing defensively and make Stanford win from the perimeter. They can't handle Stanford down low right now.
Stanford needs to: Stop turning it over (five, mostly travels) and stop fouling (four, to UCLA's none). The D did tighten in the last four minutes, and it's looking pretty good now.
Time: 7:50 left, first half
Score: Stanford 19, UCLA 12
What happened: Stanford struggled to score with its defensive lineup in the game. Taj missed a three, Brook turned it over twice in a row, on a tied-up ball and a pass too tall for Goods, forcing Trent Johnson into a timeout. Johnson brought back in Robin Lopez, and Landry for some offense. For UCLA, Russell Westbrook just beat Mitch Johnson for an alley-oop that got the crowd fired up, but that was it! Great job by the defense to hold UCLA to just two points, as Aboya missed a pair from the line off a two-on-one. But who'd have thought it would be Mitch Johnson stripping Collison and forcing the travel, and not the other way around. Robin picked up his second at the 8:51 mark and goes out. Congrats Coach Johnson! Stanford has six fouls and UCLA just one – watch out for the makeup calls.
UCLA needs to: Keep up the defensive intensity – Stanford's been forced into off-balance looks from its second and third options. Hold Stanford in the 50s and the game's theirs for the taking. Their shooting has to improve.
Stanford needs to: Limit transition opportunities that UCLA's starting to find. They'd done a good job of keeping the game in the halfcourt over the first ten minutes, and have stymied the Bruins' offense, minus Love.
Time: 3:53 left first half
Score: Stanford 24, UCLA 14
What happened: Really messy, as the pressure looks to have caught up to UCLA. They're shooting just 32 percent (6-of-19) and 1-of-4 deep. Stanford's a more average 11-of-24. Brook Lopez was too big for his defender, going over the back for a tip-in of a Fields miss. Mbah a Moute countered with a lay-in, then Brook Lopez did a great job of tipping a poor in-bounds pass to himself and finding Fields in the corner for three. Individually, UCLA made some great defensive plays, shutting down Brook Lopez and Law Hill on successive possessions, but they continued to lay an absolute brick on O. Yeah, Stanford's one of the nation's best defensive teams and is showing it with an impassioned effort tonight, but Collison airballed an eight-foot scoop and Mata let the next possession's entry pass bounce off his hands. Sure enough, the officials started to whistle UCLA – the foul discrepancy is now just 6-3.
UCLA needs to: Calm down, knock down an open shot or two and hit halftime with something positive to build upon.
Stanford needs to: The Cardinal know UCLA's going to make a run late, so whether the halftime lead is six, 10 or 14 could make a big difference. Stanford's tended to let up with a double-digit lead – they cannot do that here. Step on UCLA's throats.
Score: Stanford 30, UCLA 18
What happened: Stanford did exactly what they had to. They continued to play with defensive fire, forcing a 35-second call. They corrected mistakes mid-course, hunkering down to commit just three turnovers in the last 12:31 and two fouls in the last 8:11. It's their best half of basketball by far. UCLA, meanwhile, finally broke through with the on-ball pressure, springing Collison for an uncontested dunk and Shipp to the line off steals. Goods drove for a Stanford layup, Brook Lopez hassled Love into two misses from point blank and Shipp made 2-of-3 free throws.
UCLA needs to: Start shooting better. They're just 7-of-22 (32 percent), 1-of-4 deep and 3-of-7 from the line, and they've had plenty of good looks. The pressure of clinching the Pac-10 outright with a win looks to have caught up with them. Their defense has tightened after its first five-minute sleepwalk, so Stanford's at a good but not out-of-this-world 14-of-30 (47 percent) and is on pace to score just 60 points. Keep doubling the posts on defense and keep cheating off guards to try to force steals, because Stanford hasn't shown much from outside. Stanford shot just three threes in the first – UCLA needs that number to triple in the second if they're going to have a shot.
Stanford needs to: Keep up the defensive magic. UCLA's previous season-low for points in a half was 24, and they didn't score just 18 in a half all last season either. On offense, continue to take care of the ball – UCLA actually has nine turnovers to Stanford's eight. Continue to outrebound UCLA, it's 21-14 right now. Get to the free throw line in the second half – they didn't the entire first half. Keep Anthony Goods hot: he leads all scorers with nine.
Time: 15:58 left
Score: Stanford 36, UCLA 25
What happened: Stanford's bigs were just too big, with the Lopez twins and Taj Finger each connecting in the paint to maintain a double-digit edge. Can the Cardinal win with three-quarters of their points coming in the paint (26 of 36 thus far)? It's looking good right now. Love saved UCLA's bacon, hitting an open three and two free throws and to count for 11 of UCLA's first 25. Westbrook added a scoop in the paint. For Stanford, Robin Lopez made one of two looks from down low and Brook cleaned up his missed layup. Stanford came out with its traditional starting five – the twins, Washington, Goods and Johnson. Fred Washington picked up his third foul at the 18:10 mark, and Law Hill came in.
UCLA needs to: Z O (clap, clap) N E. [To tune of the cheer the student section on both sides of me does every 45 seconds.] I thought Howland was a coaching genius. Stanford's scored all but 10 of their points in the paint by my count – time for UCLA to pack it under the bucket hard and make the Cardinal shoot it deep.
Stanford needs to: Convince the scoreboard operator to hit the fast-forward button. Everything's going perfectly right now – just keep it up exactly like this for 16 more minutes.
Time: 11:47 left
Score: Stanford 43, UCLA 37
What happened: UCLA started to make the shots they'd been missing in the first half, hitting seven of their first ten in the second half. They made the run Stanford had to know was coming, cutting the lead to 38-34. Collison and Mbah a Moute connected from under five feet, Mbah a Moute with two lay-ins. Shipp came off that same double screen moving to his left and drained the open three on Hill (although he missed the same look a possession or two later). But Brook Lopez faded away over a double off the right block, and then Mitch Johnson stepped over a Landry Fields screen and swished a three as Stanford weathered UCLA's run, and pushed the lead back to nine. Collison made a three with a man in his face going into the timeout to cut the deficit to 43-37. For all the complaining other fans have made about UCLA, it's been Stanford catching the breaks this game. The officials missed an obvious double-dribble on Mitch Johnson, the third or fourth turnover they've missed on Stanford. Plus, they're letting physical play go, which is good news for Stanford considering the Cardinal are much more dependent on one player (Brook) than UCLA is.
UCLA needs to: Keep it going. Keep shooting with confidence, turn up the intensity on defense, let the fans get even louder (if that's possible) and it could very well be a narrow come-from-behind thriller.
Stanford needs to: Keep it going too. Know that UCLA's not going to shoot 70 percent throughout the half, know that this has been Stanford's best game to-date this season, and don't try to overcompensate to UCLA's run by abandoning the fundamentals that got them here. Six point lead, 12 minutes left. Just don't panic.
Time: 6:35 left
Score: Stanford 52, UCLA 45
What happened: Stanford's bigs continued to pound away with Brook missing twice only for Robin to tip in the third-chance board on one memorable possession. Robin banked in a bucket, and Brook split a pair from the line (Stanford's first trip to the line, with just 8:55 to go) to maintain the Cardinal lead. The twins have made ten field goals for 21 combined points (Robin's 5-of-6!) However, when Brook Lopez took a one-minute break on the bench early in the four minutes, Stanford settled for poor looks on offense. UCLA continued to stay hot, with Collison hitting a three falling down in the left corner, and the free throw off the Mitch Johnson foul. Earlier, Collison had split Johnson and Fields for a lay-in, but missed the and-one free throw. UCLA's just 6-of-11 from the line. Mbah a Moute missed an open dunk (UCLA's second such miss today), epitomizing the struggles UCLA's had with otherwise routine looks, especially in the first half. Both teams have committed six fouls. Drew Shiller came in to give Johnson a spell.
UCLA needs to: Stop the twins. Stanford still has shot only four three-pointers all game. Double team pronto, because every time Stanford needs a bucket, they're just looking toward the powder blue paint.
Stanford needs to: Keep at it. Keep going to the twins on offense, with UCLA foolishly refusing to come out of a tight man defense. Brook's 5-of-15 last time I checked – keep shooting it big man!
Time: 3:17 left
Score: Stanford 56, UCLA 51
What happened: The score started to pick up as both teams reached the free throw line. Robin hit two freebies and Brook came through with another huge basket from 14-feet out on right side. Off an airballed Mitch Johnson three, Kevin Love threw in a tip down low and then drew Robin Lopez's fourth with 3:17 to go to keep UCLA in striking distance heading into the stretch run.
UCLA needs to: Start fouling Robin when he gets the ball – it'll lengthen the game and slow down his 6-of-7 for 14 points night. Have the guards start pressuring on-ball mercilessly to force turnovers (the Bruins have seemed to move away from hard pressure in second half), and cheat off their defenders to deny the twins the ball.
Stanford needs to: No mercy. Whatever happens in the last 3:17, Stanford's played a near-perfect game thus far and just needs to keep executing and fighting hard at both ends of the court. UCLA's better than Stanford (especially at home), so they can win in spite of Stanford's A-game, but the Cardinal need to finish out on a high note and make the Bruins earn every last point. Oh, and hit those free throws.
Time: End of regulation.
Score: Stanford 63, UCLA 63
What happened: Kevin Love drew Robin Lopez's fourth foul on a pump fake and made the two free throws to pull UCLA within 56-53. Taj received an entry pass from Brook, was fouled by Shipp, and hit both free throws to pull Stanford back ahead by five with 2:48 to go. Collision misses a layup after he got free on Goods, and Love watches a potential O rebound bounce off his hands. Shipp misses a three, and Westbrook misses the wide-open tip. The next possession, Love, the only Bruin not choking, tips in Collison's miss to make it 58-55 with 1:43 left. Collison has 18.
Taj responds with the luckiest bank – backboard, front rim, backboard and in late in the shot clock to push the lead to five, 60-55. Love's fadeaway is long, but Finger failed to box out Mbah a Moute, who cleans up and draws the foul. 60-57 Stanford with 51.1 to go. Westbrook rebounds the missed free throw and tips it in. 60-59 with 48 seconds to go, so UCLA doesn't foul. 13-second differential and Johnson has nothing on the possession and is lucky to throw it off Collison's leg with 11 left on the shot clock, 24 seconds game clock. Brook receives the in-bounds and is bumped by Love, his fourth. That's also lucky because that could have been a travel on Brook. He makes the first, and Taj fouls Westbrook going for the offensive board as the second bangs off the back iron. Westbrook bounces in the first off the back iron – it arched maybe four feet in the air – and the 71-percent shooter drains the second as well to retie the game at 61. Hill gets away with a travel and/or charge to my eyes, banking it in with his right hand from six feet out, to pull Stanford ahead 63-61 with six seconds to go. The officials call a make up on Hill's block of Collison, which looked clean with 2.5 to go. Collison confidently drains both, and it's 63-all heading into overtime.
UCLA needs to: Keep driving well. Collison and Westbrook weren't able to penetrate early, but sure are now.
Stanford needs to: Go at Love, who has four fouls. If the Cardinal can foul him out, I'm feeling pretty good, but if not, UCLA has all the momentum.
Time: End of game.
Score: UCLA 77, Stanford 67
What happened: Both teams trade misses from point blank, then both teams trade buckets in the paint, then UCLA just runs away with it. Collison misses an easy scoop but tips in his miss. Then Brook blocks Love at point-blank range, but the ball bounces right to Westbrook, who scoops in the loose ball for a layup, tough break. Stanford turns it over on successive possessions. Pauley is the loudest I've ever heard any arena – ever. Ucla's D has tightened in overtime, and Stanford is just not able to penetrate. This is a game for the ages.
Stanford has to foul, and Anthony Goods draws an intentional call for hitting Westbrook blind – like Brockman did on, I believe, Brook (with no intentional whistle blown) two games ago. Tough call, but don't obsess over that, Stanford was in a really tough position anyways. Westbrook, then Shipp split a pair to put UCLA up six, so Stanford needs a three.
Johnson finds Goods who misses an off-balance three, and Hill can't control the rebound. Westbrook's open on the home run in-bounds, and two last-second Bruin lay-ins sandwiching a Mitch Johnson jumper are mighty suspicious given the nine-point spread and the 77-67 final.
Final thoughts for UCLA: They're vulnerable against two huge, NBA-caliber posts, but really, who isn't? Even with Shipp mired in a slump, Love, Westbrook and Collison were enough to outscore the conference's next-best team by 11 over the last five minutes of regulation. The defense is fierce and it's obvious why the Bruins have the best odds of anyone to win the national title. Anything can happen in March, but this is a legit Final Four team.
Final thoughts for Stanford: No shame at all in losing this one, as
Mitch Johnson and Law Hill told me postgame. Stanford played their best game of
the season and exceeded anyone's expectations. Now they need to respond like
they did after their last, crushing overtime loss: turning around and knocking
off a dangerous, athletic road team they should beat. A loss at USC and poor
Pac-10 Tournament might cost Stanford a top-four seed, and force the Cardinal to
open the NCAAs outside the state of California.
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