Stanford won this game on defense, playing a very successful zone defense for most of the game after an early stretch of tough luck individually matching up against Ike Diogu. Diogu got his points over the course of the game, but only mustered five field goals all game, and none in the final 11 minutes of play. There were three times that ASU converted better three-point looks than should have been allowed by the zone, but the defense was patient and precise in all other instances. At the final horn, the 1-1-3 zone that many pundits thought would have middling success after its November debut left a talented Sun Devil squad reeling with just 31.6% shooting.
The goat in this game would be Stanford's offense and the rebounding effort. Three different times in the first half the Card went without any scores. Then to open the second half, Stanford failed to register a point for the first four minutes. Later they went scoreless for three minutes, and another two-minute drought followed. The only consistency is Stanford's offense was the inability to score for extended stretches. But this team has survived tough stretches of offense several times this year on the shoulders of its rebounding, which was lax today. Though Stanford had 34 offensive rebounding opportunities on misses, they pulled down just 11 of those boards. For the game they were outrebounded 37-44 by Arizona State. Give credit to the tough and athletic Sun Devils, but there was a good reason Stanford often found themselves away from rebounds: they were consistently out of position. For some inexplicable reason, Stanford's big men often were sitting high in the key after shot attempts, very rarely crashing the boards after the ball went in the air. This was unquestionably a poor effort by Stanford's bigs on the glass, and I give that observation independent of the final score.
The Card looked to be in big trouble early in the second half when senior point guard Julius Barnes picked up his third and fourth fouls, before even reaching the first media timeout. Mike Montgomery gave Barnes the hook, and went with freshman Jason Haas. Haas has shown bright spots in short spurts this year, but not tested well on the road or for long stretches. But this game was his crucible, and the freshman rose mightily to the challenge. Haas played 14 straight minutes for Montgomery, and during that time he exceeded all expectations. Not only did he not foul up Stanford's chances at a tough road win - he left his team in better shape when he left the game than when he entered. The Card had been trailing by five when he replaced Barnes, at 26-31, but trailed by a single point when he returned to the bench, at 53-54.
Haas also played his role atop the 1-1-3 defense exceptionally well, despite some of the lateral quickness lost relative to Barnes. He never committed a foul, only turned the ball over twice, while creating in transition for four assists. This was unquestionably the best game of the freshman's college career, and a very important confidence builder for him and for how his teammates know they can depend on him.
Coincidentally, this game was the lowest minutes played by Barnes in more than a month, going back to the UNLV game in December. That was also a game where the senior picked up big foul trouble early in the second half, though Haas had a rough time in relief then. His maturation over the past six weeks is a welcome sign for this thin squad. The four assists in today's game is a career high for Haas.
The more prominent hero of this road rally was sophomore Josh Childress, who had far too few touches in the rough and tumble Arizona game Thursday night. As if to compensate, Childress was consistently the most aggressive Stanford player on the floor, in both halves of play. He shot the ball from deep (game high seven three-point attempts), floated midrange jumpers, and attacked the glass from all angles trying to drive and create. It was a miracle that he did not get to the free throw line more than his single attempt, but he absolutely played his ass off. His 21 points was a game high, and also the most for him since (tah-dah) the UNLV game. And in a game when Rob Little was getting handled very physically inside, unable to score or rebound, Childress was relentless and inspiring on the boards. His 10 rebounds makes this game his sixth double-double of the year. Interestingly, his one offensive board of the game was the rebound of Little's missed free throw, leading to Childress' quick putback lay-in and the game-winning field goal.
Give credit once again to Nick Robinson for an anonymous yeoman's performance. His shot attempts were a little hesitant and ineffective (2-for-6 from the field), but the redshirt sophomore pulled down eight big rebounds in 29 minutes of play. Though Justin Davis is in improving medical condition to play, the redshirt junior was again pummeled with foul trouble by the tweet-happy Pac-10 officials. Davis fouled in for the second straight game, though playing just 16 minutes. With Davis unable to get consistent minutes and Little ineffective, Robinson's rebounding was an important stabilizing force that kept ASU from opening up bigger leads in this game.
Matt Lottich had tough luck early in the game, unable to find scoring opportunities in the first half. But he kept taking shots and finished the game with a big 15 points, including three huge treys.
Stanford moves to 7-2 in the conference and into a tie for second place with this win. The road trip continues for the Card when they play Thursday and Sunday games up in Oregon next week.
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