As has been the case throughout the year, Sunday's game at Oregon State felt like a must-win for the Stanford Cardinal, though not in the sense that they must win this game to fight for a NCAA tournament berth. No, that seems much more probable than just merely possible these days with 17 wins in early February, a projected #12 national RPI and wins over a handful of the top teams in the country. This game with the heavy highlighter on the Cardinal schedule was the culmination of a tough two-week road trip and a necessary bounce-back game after a deflating and disappointing loss Thursday evening in Eugene. Stanford has not strung together more than four straight wins at any time this season, so they'd been here before: restart those winning ways after a loss and keep pace in the conference race. Top Pac-10 teams Arizona and Cal finished their weekends on Saturday, each claiming the backend of a pair of road victories and applying more pressure upon the Card to grab a win in Corvallis. The answer from a squad that is earning national accolades from ESPN and Fox Sports, but remains a dark underdog in the eyes of its own fans, was a handy 84-73 win.
The game started off as coaches often wish, with the action being focused inside the paint. Stanford's first shot of the game was a missed attempt off the glass by Rob Little, but the two subsequent makes both came deep with Little and Nick Robinson each finishing high percentage lay-ups inside. Oregon State scored its early points from frontcourt starters Philip Ricci and Brian Jackson, as well as driving lay-ups through traffic by Floyd North III and David Lucas. Stanford's subsequent baskets came outside the three-point line as Julius Barnes drilled a pair of treys, but both of those looks came off rebounds deep under the basket that quickly were whipped back out to find an open Barnes. The inside game was creating points for both teams, and foul trouble unsurprisingly followed for the starters of both frontcourts. Brian Jackson racked up his usual two quick fouls, while both Rob Little and Justin Davis picked up a pair of fouls in the first half.
Without good prospects for Stanford's post production, and with Oregon State's Philip Ricci doing just about anything he wanted to do inside or outside, it was incumbent for Stanford's guard play to step up. Unfortunately Matt Lottich could not answer the call, failing to hit a shot until the thirteenth minute of the half, and that would be his only make of the first half. Barnes hit those first two treys off the rebounds, but missed his next three shots from the field. After a Ricci three-point dagger brought the game to a tight 17-16 Stanford edge at the midpoint of the first half, Barnes exploded for one of his most outstanding performances of his career, if not one of the top stretches in Cardinal hoopdom. He had just jacked up a three-point attempt early in the shot clock the previous possession, clanking hard off the back iron for a one-and-done Stanford series. To answer Ricci's bomb, Barnes ran across the baseline to use Little as a low screen and then caught the pass out at the three-point arc. He turned and released the ball as quickly as he caught it, for a very tough turnaround fadeaway look. The ball slapped the twine without so much as a hint of iron, and silenced the home crowd. That shot would be the first of eight straight made shots for the senior guard, including a flurry of 15 points in less than five minutes that turned a one-point lead to a dominating 18-point margin. His hottest streak inside that performance would have to be his three straight three-pointers in a span of 1:40. He might have hit a fourth on the very next possession, but he was fouled in the act and instead went to the free throw line to hit two of three. With the Beavs reeling from his long-range lasers, he was fronted out at the arc when he charged down the floor the next trip, and this time hurt the Corvallis crew by taking the ball around and through the defense for a lay-in. All of a sudden, Barnes had exploded 21 points in the first 15 minutes of the game, versus the total of 23 points scored by Oregon State to that point. The point guard was active on the defensive end as well, picking up his second foul of the half, but head coach Mike Montgomery recognized the hot hand and left his senior leader on the floor in very un-Monty fashion. Barnes responded with one more basket in the half, this time a baseline turnaround 12-foot jumper off an in-bounds play.
Oregon State struggled mightily to keep pace, and entered the locker room down 15 points (46-31) at the half. Two quick baskets to open the second half trimmed the lead to 11, and a tip-back after that narrowed the margin to nine. Stanford started off the half sluggishly, with Barnes on the bench after he picked up his third foul in the closing minutes of the first half on a questionable charging call. The lead soon dwindled down to a mere six points. The Card would score just one point in the first four and a half minutes to open the second stanza, but Montgomery brought Barnes off the bench to inject some life back into his club. The scoring returned and Stanford would hold a lead that fluctuated only slightly between eight and 11 points through much of the remainder of the game.
It was a career performance for Barnes in almost every dimension. His 33 total points smashed his previous career highs of 28 points earlier this year against Rice, 27 points two weeks ago against USC and 27 points a year ago against Cal. But more impressive is the fact that Barnes scored so comfortably on the road, where he had just once in his entire career eclipsed even the 20-point mark: last year at UCLA for 23 points. The five made three-pointers was the second best of his career, only behind the numbing 8-for-11 display against Rice. And while it felt like Barnes couldn't miss from deep in the game, he just as importantly attacked the basket. 18 of his 33 points came from inside the arc or at the free throw line, including the second most free throw attempts of his career (11). To top it all off, Barnes swiped a team high and career high seven rebounds in the game, showing his hustle and energy on the defensive end of the floor.
Justin Davis made his biggest stride yet in his recovery and return from a Jan. 4 partial tear in his MCL, more so than his five points might indicate. Davis pulled down five big boards in just 15 minutes, exactly matching the rebounding totals of Josh Childress, Nick Robinson and Rob Little, each of wh