1. Officiating. We'll start here because as my dad says, "If it bleeds, it leads." Yeah, it was the wrong call on Hill with two seconds left, and yeah, Stanford would have won the game without it. Having gotten that out of the way, what bothers more – and the reason why that call was made in the first place – is that Pac-10 officials, especially this season, have been whistling makeup calls left and right. Stanford jumped to a 7-0 foul lead on Washington State? Guess where the next eight whistles are going. Stanford's benefited from the same phenomenon a lot this season, falling behind big in foul margin because of a quickness discrepancy on the perimeter, only for the officials to take the law of averages into their own hands and forcibly even things out. The same thing happened last night, with Stanford picking up a ton of fouls early in the first half, but then just two or three the rest of the period. Maybe UCLA's foul advantage should have been wider, at least in the first.
What's indisputable though is that makeup calls have to go. You don't compound one questionable call by making two.
2. The twins. Kevin Love's one of best big guys in the country, but UCLA didn't have another quality huge man. They have quality big men in Lorenzo Mata and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (last seen conducting postgame interviews in French), but the twins simply outpowered them to big rebounding days, big shooting days and open looks for their teammates. It was the biggest game of their seasons and the Lopezes played like it, both reaching double figures. Yeah, Brook took 22 shots to get there, but that's excusable against UCLA, and good things happen when we keep giving him the ball.
3. Flexibility in coaching. Guess which coach was foolishly stubborn down the stretch? Wrong. It was Ben Howland who, out of principle (he only plays man), refused to go with a zone or more quickly double the posts, who were far and away Stanford's most reliable sources of offense, and had demonstrated (Robin especially) that they could beat a single defender.
4. Composure. Guess which team shot just 32 percent in the first half for a season-low 18 points in the period? Wrong. UCLA came out "too juiced up," in Ben Howland's words, and choked early. Pauley was as loud as anywhere I've been (MacArthur Court, Michigan Stadium, Notre Dame, you name it), there were bad calls that went both ways, and UCLA made several runs. Stanford weathered it all. That's a mighty, mighty good sign for two weeks from now.
5. Intensity. Stanford had it, keeping up great defense for 45 minutes. Collison had one strip and uncontested layup and there was the last-second home run in-bounds, but other than that, UCLA had very few easy looks and Stanford did a good job of limiting their transition buckets – one of their biggest focuses coming in. Stanford played one of the best games of its season, and I think would have won in all 17 other Pac-10 situations (at home versus anyone, on the road versus anyone save for UCLA).
6. How UCLA won: The Bruins completely neutralized Stanford's post advantage.
Exhibit A: Stanford stopped scoring in the paint. We had 20 points in the paint at halftime, but finished with just 28 – and to my eyes, four or six of those came in the first two minutes of the second. Exhibit B: Stanford was +7 in rebounds halftime, but finished only +2, and -2 on O boards. UCLA grabbed a couple of big offensive boards off missed free throws in the last few minutes of regulation.
7. Endurance? I don't have a great explanation for why UCLA won the rebounding and paint battles when the game mattered most, but maybe endurance partially explains it. Neither team has a deep bench, but maybe UCLA's guys are just better athletes, or are in better health, and are not going to wear down as quickly. Trent Johnson described Kyle Weaver in that way a few weeks ago, explaining how Weaver could play better for a full 40 minutes than some of his guys. It certainly looked like Stanford's guards were able to shut down Westbrook and Collison in the first half, but just lost that half-step after they'd played for 30 minutes, and that's all those two guys needed. Then again, UCLA's a great team. Perhaps they just found that next gear.
8. A game for ages. This was the loudest sporting event I've ever attended, and Pauley just made for an awesome backdrop to an amazing game. The cheerleaders are all supermodels, and UCLA brings in a guy on the mic moments before the opening tip to pump up the crowd and lead coordinated cheers. (Note to Stanford marketing.) And once the game started, well, it had it all. Five NBA first-rounders (Love, Lopez, Lopez, Collison, Westbrook), a photo finish, great individual performances, great team runs and a dash of controversy that will keep fans talking about this game for weeks. I overheard an older Bruins fan, perhaps 70, walking out and saying that was best game he'd ever seen at Pauley. Hard to argue.
9. No loss for Stanford. My favorite sport is college football, which I love because of high stakes – lose any one week (or two) and there goes the national title. Every week's a playoff. Luckily, college basketball isn't like that. Yeah, the Pac-10 title hopes are gone, but thankfully, there were no losers last night in terms of NCAA Tournament prospects. If anything, Stanford probably showed to committee that they're for real, and might get a bump because of the sympathy "you got screwed" factor. Their RPI stayed flat at 17.
10. A must-win Saturday. A loss to USC won't be viewed in the same light. In a way, this is the more important game of weekend. USC has less talent and a worse record than UCLA, so a Stanford loss looks worse, and will hurt more in the RPI, which is already the weakest part of Stanford's profile, because of the weak non-conference schedule. Plus, the seeding committee overreacts to end-of-season momentum. Just look at Oregon grabbing a three seed last year, and riding it into the Elite Eight. Losing their last two regular season games could cost Stanford come seeding time, so they need to show the same resiliency and fight they did against UCLA. Why not? After yesterday, we know they have it in them.
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