Two recurring themes in this game spelled doom for the Cardinal: turnovers and North Carolina's three-point shooting. They led to the vast majority of the first half scoring that put Stanford in a deep hole, from which they partially but never fully recovered...
- Matt Lottich and Julius Barnes fight each other for a loose ball rebound, knocked out of bounds. UNC 2 points.
- Jackie Manual 3 pointer.
- Justin Davis kicks the ball while dribbling. UNC 2 points.
- Lazy pass from Barnes to Rob Little picked off. Raymond Felton hits 3 pointer.
- Barnes pass to Lottich picked off. UNC 2 points on transition lay-in.
- Melvin Scott shakes Davis out of his jock and hits open 3 pointer.
- Raymond Felton 3 pointer.
- Raymond Felton 3 pointer.
- Steal from Joe Kirchofer leads to transition dunk for 2 points.
Those plays accounted for 23 of North Carolina's first 28 points, en route to a 13-point lead. The lead would grow to 20 as Stanford made more turnovers, and it looked like the rout was on. Then the Cardinal made over the last five minutes of the half an unexpected 14-2 run to narrow the margin to just an eight point game. One individual who helped to spark the run was freshman forward/center Matt Haryasz, who hit an open jumper at 16 feet soon after entering the game to end a three and a half minute scoring drought. Haryasz stole a pass on the next possession, making a nice break on the ball. He then made a bounce pass to a racing Julius Barnes for a dunk. 39-31 by the end of the run was nothing short of beautiful, and Stanford appeared to have pulled themselves back into the game.
But to start the second half, the Tar Heels bombed the Cardinal into submission. In the first two minutes, Rashad McCants and Jackie Manuel knocked down a combined three treys, opening the game up in a hurry to a 15-point game. At that point in the game, North Carolina had hit 8-of-16 shots from behind the experimental 19'9" arc. At the same moment, Stanford measured up poorly with just 2-of-12. That explains quite a bit.
Stanford arguably had chances later in the half, when they pulled back from a 19-point deficit to 12 (63-51 at the 7:08 mark). The Tar Heels scored just four points over the next five minutes, giving Stanford ample time to make a run. But the Card mustered a measly two points and did not score otherwise until the final minute.
How surprising was the three-point shooting for Carolina (9-of-22 on the game)? Felton was the killer in the big run in the first half, and he was less than a 17% shooter from that range prior to this game. Jackie Manual hit a trey early in the first half and as part of that early second half killer run - though he had not hit a single bomb in his nine prior shots this year. For these guys to hit six three's between them was unexpected, certainly not part of the Stanford plan.
But credit Carolina for getting and taking the shots. The moved the ball around very patiently, often getting six or seven touches on a possession before they launched that open three. The ball reversal was quick, and they also made a few skip passes that are lethal to the 1-1-3 zone. UNC shot 49% on a lot of good looks against a defense that had symied some pretty good teams in the past week and a half. I did not see evidence in the the Kansas game that this young team could create looks from ball movement, but they did that fantastically Friday night. They also did a pretty fair job taking care of the ball when it counted.
Also credit the Tar Heels for the constant activity and pressure that helped contribute to Stanford's turnover woes this night. Stanford's passes may have been lazy, but other teams have not shown they could punish the passing this much. Also note that UNC made good breaks on the ball, with smart gambles that produced the TOs without giving up easy scoring opportunities. Other turnovers came from strips and slaps, that again should be credited to the Tar Heel players.
Now for some 'big picture' looks at what was learned from this game...
The areas of concern:
- Turnovers. In my preview, I offered up that Stanford had to take care of the ball against these aggressive and opportunistic defenders, who have the quickness to grab lazy passes and loose dribbles. Well, 21 turnovers in a game where you only registered seven assists is absolutely horrific. Credit several of those turnovers to Carolina's active man pressure, but Stanford flat out didn't take care of the ball. Justin Davis unfortunately wore his concrete gloves tonight, knocking balls out of bounds left and right, while Josh Childress lost the handle on several drives to the basket. The two combined for 10 turnovers.
- Frontcourt play. The starting pair of Justin Davis and Rob Little only scored seven points in the game, and the entire frontcourt rotation of Davis, Little, Joe Kirchofer and Matt Haryasz combined for just 13 points. In a game where Stanford had some size advantages against a smaller and quicker team, this is a great disappointment. To their credit, these players didn't have a lot of touches, and that is partially the fault of the guards. My fear after the Rice game was that the Barnes and Lottich would take that night as a license to fire at will from outside. The Florida game was possibly evidence against those fears, but it is important to remember that the Gator's defense gave open inside looks to Stanford. When defenses have played straight man defense this year, there has not been much to show that the guards can make the great entry passes. This is where Chris Hernandez can most help this team, as I saw him in the summer leagues ahead of anyone else on the roster in those passes.
- Which leads me to the next concern - shooting. In only one game this year has Stanford really shot the ball well from the perimeter, and that came against what will likely prove to be the weakest team in these first give games - Rice. Otherwise, a lot of open looks have not fallen, and my concerns about this team's ability to hit any consistent outside shooting are surfacing again. With this current lineup and rotation, the primary shooters are Barnes, Lottich and Childress... and that trio hit just 3-of-23 from behind the arc. Contrast that 23% shooting with Carolina's 43%, and you can understand why the Tar Heels were able to sprint out on their runs and Stanford could not answer.
- The two above points underscore the disappearing act that happened on this night. The scoring for Stanford was the Josh & Julius Show, and that will not cut the mustard this year when they don't get help. Little was kept on the bench for a bunch of this game with foul trouble, but where were Lottich and Davis? They each scored one basket, and those two makes came late in the game when it was already decided. That's a game killer.
The positives you can take away from this game:
- Childress may not have shot that well, but when this team was completely vacant in the first half, he put the load on his shoulders. He has made some productive performances before at Stanford, but never has he been so aggressive and persistent in pushing his offense. That was a strong reflection of his growing maturity, and recognition of his responsibility this year. Far more important than whether his shots go down or not in any one game.
- Matt Haryasz played the strongest game of his young Stanford career, pulling down six rebounds in just 12 minutes, plus a big blocked shot, his first made field goal of his career (a sweet 16-foot jumper), and an assist for a transition dunk to follow his own steal. With this thin frontcourt, Haryasz has to develop at a fast clip, and the optimist will look at this game and grip it with white knuckes in the hope that this is a sign of things to come. His presence has a ways to go, but this was most at ease I have seen the 6-10 freshman this year.
- Barnes driving to the basket. His 1-of-6 three point shooting was forgettable, but Barnes had almost all of his success inside 12 feet. He has added (if you can believe it) even more strength and quickness to his body that is allowing him to create shots nobody else can in driving straight through the middle of the defense. The beauty is that his handle and body control are keeping him safely away from charges, and giving him very good looks when driving to the glass. Again, when Hernandez returns to the lineup and Barnes can do this as the off-guard, the offense will achieve greater balance...
- Being there. Stanford honestly could have lost any of the three prior NIT games, and it was an incredible and improbable run to be in this situation. Things went badly against a team that played pretty well, but that's better than sitting at home sucking your thumb. The Card will be better for this game, and they even can take away the confidence knowing that they faced a dwarfing deficit early in the game and made a serious run. Playing against superior athletes like Carolina's is a rare experience that Stanford will learn from. If nothing else, it is a little preparation and experience for what Arizona will do... something the Card absolutely cannot replicate in practice.
Up next for Stanford - finals. The Cardinal take off the next full two weeks before playing again on December 14 against St. Mary's at home. The guys have dead week this coming week, and then finals the following week. One development to watch will be the return of Chris Hernandez to action. He should be able to run again this coming week, and join practices soon thereafter. He will be needed to acclimate himself to the conditioning and speed of the game in a hurry, because that St. Mary's game will be the first of five in just eight days.