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.
[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: 15:55 left first half
Score: USC 13, Stanford 3
What happened: USC full-court presses and forces two early Stanford turnovers. On the offensive end, USC's just too quick at every position, with Jefferson, Lewis and Hackett all beating their men to down easy looks. Mitch Johnson especially looks overmatched against Hackett, who picks up an early foul on Mitch. The Lopez twins have the only Stanford points. Trent Johnson sees where this is going and wisely cycles in some new blood – Landry Fields, Law Hill, and Kenny Brown, who OJ Mayo creams for a dunk.
USC needs to: Keep it up. Stanford hasn't really tested their halfcourt defense or defense in the paint yet because of the turnover woes – they need to be strong.
Stanford needs to: Do a better job against the full-court press, and start pounding it down low when they break the press. Find some way to adjust schematically to stop USC from dribble penetrating at every position on the court – switch to zone?
Time: 11:43 left first half
Score: USC 22, Stanford 8
What happened: The bleeding continued. Jefferson penetrates and kicks to two teammates for easy scores, one of them a thunderous Taj Gibson dunk. The Cardinal continue to turn it over – Mitch Johnson was overly ambitious on a couple of passes, and aren't diving to the floor as hard as the Trojans right now. For Stanford, Goods hit a three and Brook threw down a dunk after Stanford got into a 2-on-1 after beating the press. Goods picked up his second, and so Kenny Brown checked in.
USC needs to: Keep pressing. Stanford's coughing it up left and right. And keep driving at the other end – Stanford can't handle it.
Stanford needs to: Display the resilience that Coach J promised we'd see today. UCLA showed just two days ago that a great team can come back from an early double-digit margin. If Stanford wants to make a run at the Final Four, it needs to show it can come back and win a game like this. And go back to the starters? Some of the reserves (Brown, Shiller) don't have the quickness to keep up on the defensive end.
Time: 7:51 left, first half
Score: USC 23, Stanford 19
What happened: Kenny Brown took over, scoring eight straight – two threes sandwiched by a drive and sublime finger roll. Leave him in, I take back everything I said. The teams traded free throws (both have five fouls now) before Robin Lopez threw in a reverse layup to complete an 11-1 run. Drew Shiller continues to play extended minutes – maybe Mitch is hurt or maybe Johnson wants someone who can shoot USC out of a press? Fred Washington checked out for Landry Fields after picking up his second.
USC needs to: Dance with the girl that brought you, or whatever the idiom is. Stop settling for jumpers and drive, drive, drive to the hoop. Stanford has five fouls, so the Trojans will be in the bonus pretty soon.
Stanford needs to: Feed the beast. Brown has 10 of Stanford's 23 – keep finding him and things will open up down low too.
Time: 3:53 left first half
Score: USC 30, Stanford 23
What happened: For USC, Lewis hit a jumper and then OJ Mayo started playing up to his hype, draining a layup and a three. Stanford countered with a Kenny Brown layup and Landry Fields free throws, as the pace continued to slow after a frantic first eight minutes.
USC needs to: Gibson and Jefferson have been the hot hands early, but start feeding it to Mayo. If he takes his normal 20 shots, this looks like a game where he'll make 12, not four.
Stanford needs to: Start working it down low to the twins. Stanford has a huge size advantage and isn't capitalizing.
Score: USC 39, Stanford 31
What happened: The Cardinal got into the locker room with a manageable deficit. It would have been more manageable had Dwight Lewis not drained a big three with 10 seconds left in the half. Stanford's just 11-of-29 (38 percent) while USC's 15-of-34 (44 percent), a result of high-percentage looks they've created with their speed. But the most glaring stat is USC's 25 to 12 edge in boards, 10 to two on the offensive glass.
USC needs to: Keep slashing with their athletic wings. Lewis and Gibson lead the way with 12 points apiece. And keep crashing the glass hard.
Stanford needs to: Get a body on someone on the glass. Anthony Goods needs to have a big half after just three points in ten first half minutes, and the twins need to take this game over like they're capable of – they have only four combined boards at halftime.
Time: 15:02 left
Score: USC 49, Stanford 37
What happened: Mayo scored four – tough, tough matchup for Mitch Johnson or Kenny Brown – to become USC's third scorer in double figures. He has 13. The Trojans grabbed eight rebounds, two offensive, to Stanford's two on the period.
USC needs to: Keep exploiting Mitch Johnson and Kenny Brown defensively. And keep crashing the O boards – it's not like Stanford's going to beat them back down the court.
Stanford needs to: Stanford needs to turn around the rebounding deficit in a hurry. Everything else is secondary right now.
Time: 11:57 left
Score: USC 51, Stanford 45
What happened: Hackett picks up his fourth at the 13:03 mark, and Angelo Johnson takes his place. If Stanford's going to make a run, now's the time. Sure enough, after a Kenny Brown three early in these four minutes, Mitch Johnson buries one from NBA range off a nice screen to pull the Card within six. Fouls are 5-2 USC (and Stanford's caught a couple of breaks), so watch out for the makeup calls down the stretch. Stanford grabbed the only two boards of the stretch.
USC needs to: Go back to their offense of the first half – put the ball in their playmakers' hands and let them create off the dribble. Mayo's 7-of-11 and Gibson's 7-of-13.
Stanford needs to: Get it to the twins, who have 16 points on 15 shots. Both those numbers need to double if Stanford has a shot tonight.
Time: 7:17 left
Score: USC 61, Stanford 49
What happened: Mayo leads all scorers with 20, 11 in the second half, after four of his best minutes in a USC uniform. First, he stripped Fred Washington for an easy dunk. Then he floated a pass to Jefferson, who absolutely posterized Kenny Brown on an alley-oop. Then Mayo beat Brown badly off a screen, forcing Johnson to bring in Goods for Brown. Stanford started feeding the twins a little more – Brook cleaned up his own miss off the right glass on one possession, before finding Robin for an alley-oop the next to keep Stanford alive. But then Mayo came back with a huge three in Mitch Johnson's face from the right corner to push USC's lead back to 12.
USC needs to: Keep it up. The offensive plan went back to how it was in the first half – letting the guards create off the dribble. Stanford doesn't have an answer and is desperately cycling through guards to find one.
Stanford needs to: Keep going to the twins, it's the right move. Bring back in Fred Washington to guard Mayo? But he has no points and three fouls in six minutes of play. If he's not on, the defensive options are unpleasant. Instead, the Cardinal are going to check in Drew Shiller for Johnson. Watch out.
Time: 3:30 left
Score: USC 69, Stanford 54
What happened: Stanford's scoring enough, but just cannot stop USC's quickness. Every opponent is going to be watching the tape of this game come NCAA Tournament time. Brook hit a free throw, then Mayo airballed from 14 feet after Hill came over on the double. Off a great block down low, Stanford worked it in to Robin Lopez, who cut the deficit to 10 with a nice dribble spin-move, but then Angelo Johnson beat Mitch Johnson off the dribble, and Stanford's help left Jefferson wide open for three. Robin Lopez made a pair from the line as Hackett checked back in with four fouls at the 4:44 mark. But USC broke down Stanford twice – a crazy Jefferson layup and a Gibson dunk as USC put it out of reach.
USC needs to: Play the seniors on Senior Day? Oh wait, they don't have any. Just play Mayo, Jefferson and Gibson then. All three, especially Mayo and Jefferson, might be playing their last game at the Galen Center.
Stanford needs to: Fight hard and show themselves something positive in these last four minutes to carry over into postseason play. Cutting the deficit to single figures would be a nice start.
Score: USC 77, Stanford 64
What happened: Hackett fouled out on the slightest of contact on a Kenny Brown three, as Brown drained all three free throws. Then Drew Shiller hit a three as the fans started to murmur. But Johnson drew a foul on Shiller, Stanford's fifth, and USC tied up board off the second free throw. The Trojans drained the shot clock before turning it over, and then Anthony Goods forced up an off-balance three, missing badly. Stanford went into intentional foul mode. Trent Johnson made it interest, picking up a technical for jawing with the ref down 13 with 1:13 to play, auguring for an interesting media session to come.
Final thoughts for USC: The Trojans' season has kind of played to form. Everyone thought it would take them awhile to gel (although no one thought they'd lose to Mercer), but once they put together the pieces, Pac-10 fans knew it was going to be a mighty impressive jigsaw puzzle. They're going to be one of the most dangerous teams come Tournament time.
Final thoughts for Stanford: Like Thursday's loss, no shame in losing
this one. There's not much you can do to compensate against a team quicker at
virtually every slot on the roster. But fans need to remember that the
athleticism gap is a ceiling for Stanford come the postseason. As I said when we
climbed into the top ten, this is a top-15 or top-20 team, but that lack of
speed keeps us out of the top 10. After this weekend, the polls will reflect
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