Card Take Exhibition Opener Over O-Club

Stanford welcomed one of their Final Four team heroes home when Kris Weems hit Maples as part of the San Francisco Olympic Club in Tuesday night's exhibition, though the Card welcome wagon was unkind in a solid 84-67 victory. Julius Barnes led all scorers with 27 points, as Stanford shored up its defense in a strong second half showing.

My early thesis on this Stanford basketball team is that they will be up and down on offense, with a chance to be more 'up' if they can keep the starting five healthy, but that defense and rebounding are pretty significant concerns.  Using those lenses for viewing this opening exhibition contest for the Cardinal, I note that Stanford opened a meager two-point halftime lead to a 17-point final margin as the defense picked up dramatically in the second half.  The Olympic Club was allowed to shoot an unacceptable 52% from the field in the first half, as Stanford made an unsettling number of mistakes on defense.  Two players would move to defend one and leave a shooter open (read: Kris Weems), or some guys did not react well in transition.  "We had a lot of mistakes," noted head coach Mike Montgomery after the game.  "Guys who had performed well in practices played nervous.  We'll have growing pains this year, and we knew that."

Barnes lit up for 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting in the first half, including 4-of-5 from deep, and though he appeared to 'cool down' in the second stanza with just 9 points, consider that he logged just 13 minutes and took just four shots (3 of 4 from the field).  His 27 total points bear out the fact that he was the most dominant and impactful player for Stanford tonight, and probably will be through much of the season.  While Chris Hernandez is out with his foot injury, Barnes will play primarily at the point guard, which puts the ball in his hands and gives him chances to make plays.  He made a lot of plays tonight, driving from the perimeter to both score and dish, as well as creating shots from midrange and deep for himself.  I said this in the off-season, and I'll say it again - Julius Barnes is probably going to be the best three-point shooter on this team this year.  Matt Lottich will get in a zone at times, and Dan Grunfeld has a pure shot when set that could beat out almost anyone in the conference, but Barnes will be the one to take the most shots and will most consistently hit them.  I think his 4-of-6 from outside we saw tonight will be the norm much more than an aberration.  Interestingly, Monty reacted to Barnes' stellar night with a hint of caution for how this team needs to score going forward.  "We don't want [Julius] to have to score 27 each night for us," he proclaimed.  Monty talked about Julius finding some balance in getting the rest of the team involved, which happened better in the second half of the game.  And this is where JB has to fight the disparate roles between being a point guard and a shooting guard (where Barnes played four minutes in the game).

While Barnes started at the point, Matt Lottich started at the off-guard.  He had an off night, in my opinion, largely based on poor shot selection.  Though he is a junior, he played like a youngster with nerves who felt compelled to chuck up a lot of junk.  The eyesore of the evening was a Casey-eque shot from the Maples Pavilion logo way beyond the arc, though he had several other shots well off the mark.  To his credit, he did get set for two or three very nice, very pure shots.  But the remainder of his 4-for-10 evening (nine points) was forgettable.  Lottich can be a pretty good shooter and scorer if he can play within himself (a coaching cliche, but one that truly fits here) and wait for his shot.  That is a big mental issue for Lotty and the coaches to tackle this year, but Barnes also has to help out by getting him the ball in good spots to help enable good shot selection.

Behind Lottich in the rotation was freshman Dan Grunfeld, who had a rocky start but a very encouraging evening.  The ragged start came soon after he entered the game in the first half, when Stanford put up five missed shots in one possession - and three of them were tossed by Danny's hands.  The first shot in the possession was actually Rob Little's, and a good shot from 12 feet that should have gone down.  But when Grunfeld came up with the loose ball, you could see a flash of freshman nerves with how he immediately tossed up an ugly shot.  He did that three times, with one more ugly heave from fellow frosh Matt Haryasz of the same nature.  The shots looked nothing at all like Grunfeld's game, and you just have to hope he gets crap like that out of his system in a hurry.  The good news is that just a minute later, he brought the ball from the top of the key to his left and penetrated for a sweet and smooth driving lay-in.  If the kid bounces back that fast, Stanford is in good shape and will want more and more Grunfeld minutes as this year progresses.  He had a solid second half, with 2-for-4 shooting, including the swish of his one trey attempt of the game, finishing with seven points.  He also had a brilliant drive and bounce pass dish to Matt Haryasz that was completely foreign to freshman play.  Don't be surprised if you see some strong Grunfeld-Haryasz chemistry this year, as these two got close through phone calls and emails going back to last spring, and they have looked close to me during and after practices this summer and fall.

Haryasz did not score other than that one basket and one free throw, but his hustle and defensive presence were big.  He blocked 4 shots in the game, all coming in his nine minutes of second half play.  The exciting thing about his blocks is that he can get them even when out of position.  He knocked down one three-point attempt, even though he was playing a good five feet off the shooter, in one instance.  Haryasz bit on a fake inside in another instance, but still recovered to put his hand completely on top of the ball.  His rebounding will come through strength and experience (just 3 boards this evening), and his offense will come over time as he finds how to use his body against big and physical defenders... but his defense can help right now.

The other freshman to play in the game was point guard Jason Haas, and he surely surprised people.  I first reported in the summer that he was playing at a much higher level than expected, but I think his play Tuesday night was a solid testament to his maturity and advanced readiness.  In fairness, I think he could struggle all year to score offensively, and will find many talented point guards against which he will have some difficulty defensively.  But he runs the team well, and plays with a poise and pace that is exciting.  "Jason Haas did a nice job for us," said Monty after the game.  "He showed good poise and did a nice job running the break.  He did a nice job doing what he's supposed to do.  Although, he will have to be more offensive-minded at some point."

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