Dribbles & Bits™: Win Over Northwestern

Here is an offering of random thoughts and observations that won't always make the stat sheet. Hope it adds some welcome flavor, especially for our valued hoops-prioritizing premium subscribers who aren't local and couldn't take in Saturday night's exciting, last-minute 65-59 win over the Northwestern Wildcats, a victory sparked by one of the best performances in senior PG Mitch Johnson's career!

Dribbles & Bits™ - Northwestern Wildcats

Twas the Saturday night before Christmas and down on the Farm, you couldn't find a pout, cause MJ shot lights-out! 

OK, OK, a yule-tide poet I am not, but our beloved Stanford Cardinal basketball team did manage to spread some holiday cheer by holding off a pretty game challenge from previously 7-1 Northwestern at Maples Pavilion tonight (Saturday, 12/20/08). The final score was 65-59, but fans were treated to a dose of heart-pounding drama as the clock was winding down and the Cats clawed their way to within one at 59-58. It was definitely not a night for leaving early. After a red-hot first half that ended in a surprising 39-26 advantage, Stanford was outscored by seven in the second half and very nearly gave up the impressive 13-point lead it had built with sizzling outside shooting from senior guards Anthony Goods and Mitch Johnson

First Half: Our veteran backcourt came out on fire. AG and MJ combined for 28 first-half points, including a ridiculous 7 of 8 three-point attempts. Goods came out looking like he might go for 40, ending up with 18 points on 7-9 shooting (including 4-5 from downtown) in the opening stanza. No one wants a piece of Goods when his confidence is sky-high. On defense, the Cardinal forced 14 first-half turnovers against a team that generally takes care of the ball pretty well. Not every day we see a Stanford squad get eight steals in a single half against anybody! Former Stanford forward Jeff Ryan's son Jeff (#5) was hustling around for the Wildcats and looked pretty solid with six points in the first half to lead his team.

Second Half: Northwestern started taking better care of the ball (just five TOs in the second half) and forward Kevin Coble started to heat up, finishing the night with a team-high 15 points. Stanford shot a miserable 7-20 and 1-6 from three, but improved its rebounding significantly. Sure, the team teetered under pressure when some shots weren't falling, but it didn't fold. Nice to see. Our lead held up...barely. We wouldn't have wanted to have played this one in Evanston this year.

Crowd-Pleaser of the Year (-to-Date): Landry Fields, who failed to score in this contest, daringly launched a perfect high feed to a rising Josh Owens for a monster alley-oop slam that appeared to break the Wildcats' spirit at 57-52. That is, until we gave them another chance, which led to..................

The Clutch Play of the Game: With the shot clock running down, Mitch Johnson, who moments before had "blacked out and felt dizzy" after having his cranium bounce off the hardwood floor, buried a three-pointer at the buzzer to give Stanford a 63-58 lead - the only three-point basket of the second half for Stanford, which at that point was 0-5 from deep.

Coach's Thoughts: Coach Dawkins called it "hard fought", said "our guys mixed it up well". Liked our defense in the first half. Was impressed that NW came out in the second half and adjusted well. Was happy overall, but said he will find a way to address appropriately the 11-20 free throw-shooting in the second half that basically allowed the Wildcats to get back into the game. Says the senior stepped up, that they realized that there are no "do-overs" this year. They have to cherish every game. 

Quick Takes Cause I Need to Get to Bed:

Our seniors really stepped up tonight and put down a team that had already beaten DePaul and Florida State this month. All four made important contributions including Lawrence Hill going 7-8 from the line in the second half when it seemed everyone else was bricking from the stripe. Where would this team be without future dental All-American Kenny Brown? Tonight it was mostly on the defensive end with a couple of nice steals and his usual energy. Fields wasn't scoring tonight, but provided seven rebounds and a team-high four assists! Josh Owens is active to say the least. Five offensive boards, a huge defensive rebound in the final minute, plus additional evidence that he may well end up the most prodigious "dunker" in the entire history of Stanford basketball. Not sure Brian Risso & Co. keep those stats, but our sensational sophomore is simply a ferocious finisher. Rarely have we had a guy who is both willing and able to rattle the rim the way Josh is doing in 2008. And he is resilient too! He clanked a couple of free throws in crunch time, but immediately settled his debt with a tremendous blocked shot on the next possession. 

So, our team is off to a sterling, if somewhat suspect, 7-0 record. You have to be thrilled for Coach Johnny Dawkins, his staff and his team, that the 2008 Cardinal has gotten off to such a nice start. Not going to go as far as to call it a "strong" start, but it certainly has been a pleasant, upset-free beginning to the Dawkins era. Plus, racking up a bunch of non-conference wins could be the key to fulfilling our hopes and dreams for post-season play this spring. 

Something That Should Not Go Unnoticed: Johnny Dawkins is a good guy, funny too. Heck of a lot more cheerful than his predecessor, Trent Johnson, whom I liked personally as well, but who could be pretty sour-faced even after a 30-point win.  No one forced Coach Dawkins to take time at the end of tonight's post-game media conference and go out of his way to say "If I don't see you guys, Happy Holidays!" - all with a big sincere smile and a wave. Trust me, you don't get that with every coach. Hard not to like Johnny and want to see him have success.

Next the Cardinal will head down to the Leavy Center at Santa Clara on Tuesday where our guys will try to dispense with a proud program that has produced some greats like Dennis Awtrey, Bob Feerick, Bud Ogden, Ken Sears, the late Nick Vanos, and NBA superstar Steve Nash). It sure can't hurt to have former Santa Clara head coach Dick Davie on our side this time! Should be a good one! Make the drive if you can and come support our team! Tickets are still available!

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and Happy New Year, folks! Guten Rutsch!

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