Before every game, fans and coaches alike wonder which Stanford team will come to play? Will it be the Stanford team that plays inspired defense and executes Coach Montgomery's offense and showed up against Xavier, Florida, and in the second half of the Pete Newell Challenge against Gonzaga? Or will it be the evil alter egos in Stanford jerseys who don't box out, give up points in transition and turn the ball over, who showed up against Montana and Richmond and in the first half against Gonzaga? The answer came early Monday night against Yale; it was to be the focused Cardinal squad, the one that can play with anyone in the country. Yale, rusty after a 17 day layoff, had no answer for the Card's superior speed and size.
Propelled by strong defense, and marksmanship that would make any sniper proud, the Cardinal jumped out to a 15-4 advantage before the first media timeout - also before Yale had a chance to catch their breath. Yale started out the game in a 2-3 zone, designed to clamp down on Justin Davis, coming off career highs in points in each of the last two games, and Rob Little, while daring the wings to beat them from the outside. Thanks to patient ball movement, Stanford found themselves with wide-open looks from the outside. In the first minutes, Josh Childress knocked down two threes, and Julius Barnes added another. Still, Yale stayed in the zone. Having established an early double digit lead would Stanford continue to hustle and fight, or would they become complacent?
An infusion of Joe Kirchofer, Nick Robinson and Dan Grunfeld provided an early second wind. In the first half alone, Nick Robinson scored seven points, surpassing his previous season high of six, set against Xavier. Grunfeld added five points in only eight minutes. Kirchofer went directly to the low blocks where he does his best work. He was the recipient of a beautiful pass created by Josh Childress penetration, and finished for an easy layup. The teams traded baskets for a few minutes, but Stanford closed out the half on a 17-4 run as the Card overwhelmed the Bulldogs inside, even though Rob Little had to sit thanks to two personal fouls. Justin Davis inside was more than enough and was there to clean up the rare Stanford miscues with an offensive rebound and putback, and a blocked shot on the defensive end. The block surprised everyone in the building. It looked like Scott Gaffield of Yale had an easy layup in transition, but JD came flying back, and pinned the ball against the backboard. Gaffield had no idea Davis was coming and was so frustrated, he turned around and fouled Josh Childress as soon as he could.
It was 41-18 Stanford at halftime. The stats bore out the Cardinal's defensive effort, all of it from their intense man-to-man defense. The Card held the Bulldogs, a team that was shooting 47% from the field coming into the game to only 25%. Yale committed fourteen turnovers to only four assists as Stanford cut off all penetration and kept the bulldogs on the perimeter. Rob Little did a good job drawing charges, but also picked up his two personal fouls on instances where it looked like he had good position where he was whistled for a block. Stanford also kept Edwin Draughn, Yale's leading scorer, and Josh Childress's high school teammate, scoreless in the first half with three turnovers. Although the two have been friends since the sixth grade, Childress, who was matched up on Draughn for much of the half, showed his friend no love on the court, harassing him when he had the ball and denying him more touches. Draughn would score 12 in the second half to lead the Elis but would only shoot 4-of-13 from the field.
Coming out of the half, we once again wondered, which Stanford club would show? Yale cut the lead to 50-33 behind Draughn, as the Bulldogs looked like the dangerous team they were supposed to be for the first time all game. Two Julius Barnes buckets later, and the lead was back to 20. Yale was able to cut the lead back down to 15, but couldn't get over that hump, and couldn't put a real run together. Matt Haryasz showed some nice post moves, including a couple hook shots and turnarounds to finish with a career high nine points. The 6'10" freshman also blocked two shots in his 12 minutes of play, his best game of the year. The Cardinal traded baskets with the Bulldogs, and Coach Montgomery, upset with Stanford's lackluster play reinserted his starters with 10 minutes to go. They seemed to get the message, and pushed the lead back to 20.
With the Cardinal's lead safe in the closing minutes, and the message sent to troops, Montgomery emptied the bench and brought in Carlton Weatherby and Tyler Besecker. The first time he touched the ball, Besecker drained a three-pointer from the right corner. Maples exploded.
Although the Card played an excellent first half against a good team with a top 40 RPI, there were a few items that could worry the coaching staff.
- Rob Little picked up his second personal foul with ten minutes to go in the half, trying to take a charge. Little plays the fewest minutes of any of the starters due largely to his team-leading number of personal fouls. Stanford needs Rob to stay on the floor.
- Stanford shot 38.5% from the free throw line in the first half. Although they were 6-of-6 in the second half to finish the game at 58%, the Cardinal will continue to cost themselves in close games by giving away points at the charity stripe. Remember, the coaches blamed the free throw shooting for the loss to Montana. The watch continues...
- Jason Haas looked tentative running the point in the second half, and the team was ineffective on offense. To be fair, the lineup on the court featured all three freshmen, so there was plenty of inexperience all the way around. Also, in the first half, playing with the first team, Haas showed off a behind the back pass, and looked fine. However, he looked rushed in the second half when things didn't go exactly according to plan and this was in front of a friendly Maples crowd. He will continue to get his eight minutes a game: three spelling Barnes, and five with him.
- The officiating tonight was awful. Every bump, every jostle for position was called in the post. Although it was consistent, and went against both teams, neither coach was happy. Both teams were in the penalty with 10 minutes to go in each half. This makes for a less fluid game, and does Pac-10 teams a disservice when they play more physical teams from other conferences in the NCAA tournament.