One Step Back: Card drop in Seatte

As has been the pattern throughout this season, as soon as Stanford builds momentum with a cluster of wins, they drop one. And while there will be a lot of road losses in the Pac-10 this year, Saturday's 73-68 defeat at Washington is a disappointing one. The Card never managed to grab a good lead, and then felt the game slip away when they hit a wall late...

Stanford may have seemed just a bit charmed, pulling out three straight wins without so much as a minute of action from stellar forward Justin Davis, and pulling out two of those wins from the jaws of certain defeat.  Throw in a blowout win over the #10 team in the country, and there was some cause for at least a little smile.  But that all came crashing down in a hard fought loss in Seattle Saturday afternoon, as the Card dropped 73-68 to the host Huskies.

There frankly was little ebb or flow to the game to describe.  It was a very tightly contested affair from tip to finish, with neither team ever enjoying much more than a few points of a lead.  Nevertheless, several trends stood out during this physical battle.

Though tied at many points in both stanzas, a wholly different Stanford team played up and down in each half.  The Card played hard, but could not match the frenetic pace of play that Washington employed in the first half.  Though Stanford has been a better rebounding team than Washington this year, the Huskies mauled the Card on the boards by a 20-12 margin in the first half.  Stanford got their hands on the ball many times first off the rim, but leaping and swiping Washington players consistently knocked balls loose and outhustled the Card to them.

Another sharp advantage for the Huskies in the first half was the breakneck speed at which they pushed the ball up the floor after Stanford misses.  Their small but speedy guards led a number of 3-on-1 breaks, and executed them well.  Despite all this. Stanford incredibly held a 32-31 lead at the break, on the back of their outside shooting.  The Card hit 5-for-10 from outside the arc, led by Matt Lottich's standout 13 points.

But the second half brought out an entirely different Stanford squad, who were gangbusters on the boards, but impotent from outside.  The Card crushed their canine foes with a 27-15 rebounding margin in the half, partially due to Washington's inability to keep up their ultra-high energy in the paint.  But the visitors from Palo Alto misfired horrible from three-point land in a sad 3-for-13 display.  Shots at times were hurried, but many of the looks were solid.  The lid just didn't lift for a number of Stanford shots in the second half.

One huge element missing in the final 20 minutes of play was the junior sharpshooter, Lottich.  He picked up two early fouls in the half, giving him a total of four, and sat from the 15:40 mark all the way to 6:46 remaining in the game.  Lottich would not have been in risk of such foul difficulties had he not picked up a costly second whistle late in the first half on a technical foul.  Immediately after a Rob Little short shot off the glass, Lottich was hit for taunting, which not only gave two free throws and possession to the Huskies, but it also was his second foul.

During Lottich's extended absence in the second half, Stanford never hit a shot beyond the arc.  And though that may appear to be the key reason for Stanford's loss, the game actually was tied at 58 shortly after his return.  The game was lost for the Card in the next 5 minutes and 18 seconds, during which time Stanford could only make one field goal and was outscored 11-4.  But the Huskies far from ran away with the game during that stretch.  They had numerous opportunities to build a more imposing margin, only to find a sound Stanford zone defense in the way.  No, the defense was not the culprit in a game where UW hit just 41% from the field and 31% from outside.  It was Stanford's disappearing offense that gave rise to a 69=62 deficit, and ultimately the loss.

Stanford's offensive possessions during the lethal 5:18 stretch were:

  • Rob Little turnover, followed by a Little foul
  • Julius Barnes (too) quick three, missed and rebounded by Childress (on the endline and out of bounds)
  • Nick Robinson quick three, missed
  • Lottich three in the corner, missed and put back by Little on the offensive glass
  • Childress drive, fouled - hit both free throws
  • Little baseline jumper, missed off the near iron and out of bounds
  • Childress three in the corner, missed and rebounded by UW

With the exception of the Little baseline shot, all Stanford's shots came awfully early in the possession - in the first 15 seconds to be precise.  Almost no ball movement, and too itchy of a trigger finger from the outside.  The margin was not yet sufficient to merit the anxiety, and that points to a team uneasy playing on the road.  The conditions just didn't justify these kinds of quick shots, and the offense was completely abandoned.  And that was how a tie score in a mediocre game quickly eroded into a larger and ultimately lethal margin.

After trailing by seven points with just 90 seconds to go, Stanford managed to work the deficit down to two points on a Childress three-pointer, one of two Barnes free throws, and Robinson pull-up midrange jumper.  Washington made no baskets during the mini-run, though they did chip in two points on a pair of free throws.  The Huskies had possession and were immediately fouled on the next play, giving them free throws to extend the game to a two-possession margin with just 19 seconds in regulation.  Will Conroy hit the first but bricked the second free throw, giving the Cardinal one big breath of life.

They trailed by just one three-point field goal and had more than ample time to get up a good shot.  Unfortunately, the senior Barnes took the ball the length of the court and jacked up a very strange two-point jump shot with 11 seconds remaining.  UW pulled down the rebound, and then hit both free throws to extend the lead to an unreachable five points, the final margin of the game.

Criticism surely is due to Stanford's senior point guard for taking the inexplicable two-point shot when down by three.  Several fans have already cried out further criticism that Mike Montgomery did not call a timeout to set a play for the last shot, but they are woefully ignorant of the fact that Stanford had already used all their timeouts.

Josh Childress played a very commendable game in terms of hustle and aggressiveness, the only Cardinal player on the wing willing to take the ball to the basket.  He ripped down a game-high five offensive boards and worked his tail off to make something happen inside.  The flipside of this game for the Stanford sophomore was that his offensive efficiency was downright anemic.  He hit just 2-for-8 outside and 4-for-18 overall in the game.  His aggressive play did get him to the free throw line, though - more than the entire rest of his team combined.  It was there (8-of-9) that he scored a big chunk of his team-high 18 points.  His 10 boards give him his fifth double-double of the year, though the first to come in a Stanford loss.


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