Second Half Surge Outlasts Zags

Stanford had opportunities for one final strong non-conference win, not to mention a small measure of revenge, when they faced Gonzaga Saturday at the Arena in Oakland. That arena was the site of a landmark come-from-behind win two years ago when Stanford made a second half surge to beat Duke in the 2000 Newell Challenge, and the 2002 edition against the Zags provided similarly fantastic emotion with a 81-71 comeback win.

Like so many hangovers, the one the Bulldogs are likely to experience Sunday morning will be the result of too much J.D. Redshirt junior forward Justin Davis led the way as Stanford moved to 8-3 on the season with an impressive 81-71 come from behind victory over a tough Gonzaga Bulldogs squad Saturday afternoon at the Pete Newell Challenge in Oakland.

Stanford fell behind early in the contest, and the Bulldogs took a nine point lead into the intermission on the strength of solid play in the paint and poor decision-making by the Cardinal in the first half. However, Stanford blitzed the Zags 49-30 in the second half to avenge the second round NCAA Tournament defeat the Card experienced in 1999 in Seattle.

Davis led the way for the Cardinal with a career high 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting from the field (6-of-11 from the free throw line). He also contributed five boards, three assists and three steals. Stanford shot an outstanding 59% from the field for the game, and 74% from the line. The Zags also shot well from the field overall (49%) and from the line (75%). However, the Zags managed only four trips to the charity stripe on the game, while Stanford had 23 free thow attempts.

Stanford played uninspired basketball in the first half. After trading baskets until the first television timeout, Gonzaga went on a 13-2 run to open up a 26-16 lead. The early action featured a couple of quick threes by senior Julius Barnes, followed by three straight misses from the Cardinal's point guard. Meanwhile, six different Gonzaga players contributed to the Bulldogs' first eight baskets, and the Zags' balanced attack had Stanford's man-to-man defense on its heels. Gonzaga scored numerous easy baskets in the paint, as the Bulldog guards and wings cut backdoor and their bigs established position too close to the basket to be stopped once the entry pass was made. Sophomore center Rob Little's absence for much of the first half due to early foul trouble contributed to the Card's problems with its interior defense. In one particularly ugly sequence, junior shooting guard Matt Lottich was burned by Gonzaga's Blake Stepp for a backdoor layup; on Stanford's ensuing offensive possession, Lottich tried to force a quick three-pointer that Stepp, who is known for neither his quickness nor jumping ability, blocked cleanly. Stanford generally had trouble defending Gonzaga big man Cory Violette, who showed a nice stroke from 15 feet as well as a lot of inside muscle that may have reminded Stanford fans of Zag alum Casey Calvary.

Stanford's offense was unfortunately also out of synch for most of the first half. In addition to Barnes' itchy trigger finger, Lottich hoisted a few quick but errant threes, two of which were contested (including the one blocked by Stepp). Fortunately for the Card, Justin Davis and sophomore forward Josh Childress kept the Zags from pulling away. Remarkably, Stanford's starting forward tandem accounted for the team's final 20 points of the first half, and the Card went into the intermission down by nine at 41-32.

Stanford got off to a quick start in the second half, scoring the first two buckets and forcing a quick timeout by the Zags. After letting their lead dwindle to 41-36, the Zags went on a tear, extending the margin to 49-37. However, two critical plays turned the momentum in Stanford's favor. Stepp picked up his fourth foul, then Davis drove the lane and dished to Little for a huge dunk at the 14:40 mark. The sweet play by Stanford's bigs seemed to fire the team up, and it sparked a 10-0 Cardinal run that featured a pair of treys by Childress. The second of his threes was set up by yet another gorgeous pass from Davis, who spotted Childress on the wing after penetrating into the lane. Stanford was within two points at 49-47 after the 12-minute TV timeout. When action resumed, Little scored on a layup to tie the score at 49. Davis then put the Card ahead for good with a steal on the perimeter, which he converted into a layup at the other end.

A pair of highlight reel plays helped Stanford pull away late. Davis picked up a loose ball in the paint and stuffed it. Shortly thereafter, Little threw a perfect lob pass to Childress from the top of the arc, and the sophomore superstar threw it down while being undercut by an earthbound Zag defender. (It's worth noting that it was the second time in the game that Mike Montgomery called that play, which also worked to perfection against UC Irvine last week.) Freshman wing Dan Grunfeld played exceptionally well down the stretch as the Card put the game on ice, including a clutch three-pointer that put the Card up 61-57. He later turned in what was perhaps the hustle play of the year, as he dove for and recovered a loose ball, then calmly knocked down a long jumper seconds later. Grunfeld also hooked Davis up with a pair of beautiful passes. The first found the redshirt junior East Bay native streaking toward the basket on a backcut, and the second was a bounce pass through traffic that Davis would have converted into a monster dunk but for a hard foul by a Bulldog defender. Redshirt junior center Joe Kirchofer deserves props for some nice work on the interior, including a tip-in that gave the Card a 10-point lead. Kirchofer is not known for offensive contributions, but delivered maximum efficiency with six points on 3-of-3 shooting in his critical minutes substituting for the foul-labored Little.

As the final minutes wound down, Stanford did a fine job of working the clock and protecting the ball. In a curious move, however, Gonzaga chose not to aggressively foul Stanford. The conventional wisdom suggests that Gonzaga should have put Stanford on the line and traded one or two points for three-point goals. Nevertheless, head Zag Mark Few didn't seem to have a clear plan down the stretch, and the Card's ability to knock down late free throws was never truly tested.

In addition to the tremendous performances by Davis and Childress, who went for 18 points and a team-high seven boards, there were several keys to Stanford's second half run that saw the Card outscore Gonzaga 49-30. The defensive intensity was much improved in the second half, and both the man-to-man defense and the 1-1-3 zone, which was employed infrequently, were more effective. After hitting four of its first eight three-point attempts, Gonzaga went cold, going oh-fer in its final 15 attempts. While Stanford's defense was quite good, the Bulldogs missed at least half a dozen very clean looks. Stepp was ineffective, going 0-for-7 from beyond the arc. Stanford clearly keyed on the top Zag, and he was limited to very few clean looks. It also bears mention that Stanford stayed out of foul trouble in the second half. Remarkably, despite Pac-10 refs, Stanford was whistled for only nine fouls the entire game (to Gonzaga's 22). Some additional thoughts and observations from the game:

  • The quickness advantage of Davis and Childress over their Gonzaga counterparts was striking. Both were able to get past their defenders consistently and, at times, with ease. That quickness advantage was also a major factor in getting the Bulldogs into foul trouble.
  • Grunfeld may push Lottich for playing time. It would be premature to draw too many conclusions from one game, but the junior shooting guard struggled mightily (despite four assists), while his freshman counterpart was easily Stanford's most effective off-guard today.
  • Rony Turiaf, who came into the game averaging 17.3 ppg, was limited to seven minutes because of a sprained ankle. With a number of players in foul trouble, including Richard Fox, who fouled out, Turiaf's injury was a huge factor.
  • Cal did not show well in the first game of the Newell Challenge against Kansas, and lost their first and last opportunity for a quality out-of-conference win.

Complete game box score

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