Stanford should be winning by about seven, and no less an authority than Bill Carmody, Northwestern's head coach, agrees with this reporter. "We're fortunate," he said. "I think they missed a lot of easy shots."
At first glance, Carmody's nuts: Stanford shot 12-of-29 to Northwestern's 14-of-33, virtually identical 42 percent marks and hardly evidence of a ton of missed easy shots. But look at the breakdowns: Northwestern's an abhorrent 2-of-15 deep, but 12-of-18 on twos. Stanford, meanwhile, is 5-of-10 deep, and therefore just 7-of-19 inside the arc, with many of those misses coming from within eight feet. Plus, of course, there is the matter of free throws, where Stanford is again struggling at 4-of-9 (though the Wildcats are just 3-of-7).
Defensively, Stanford played many of the earliest minutes in man, but then mixed in a little 2-3 zone as halftime neared. One possible reason for the switch could be to try to slow Northwestern guard John Shurna, who has 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting. Without Shurna, the Cats are just 8-of-23 – he is singlehandedly keeping them in the game. He's burnt Gabe Harris crispy a few times, which is understandable as Harris is a young walk-on, but he's also had his fair share of success against Landry Fields as well, much of it coming off back cuts. If Fields wants to be playing in the NBA next year, he's got to improve that defense.
Fields got his revenge on Shurna though. Be glad this one was televised because SportsCenter will be using a highlight from 1:02 left in the first half. Landry Fields threw down one of those dunks that words don't do justice, an and-one one-handed slam over Shurna from the right baseline. The power and explosiveness he displayed caused the commentator, Wayne Larrivee, to call Fields one of the best players he's seen this year. The cherry on top? Fields made his free throw, no small matter for this squad. He's on pace for a triple-double with 10 points, six rebounds and five assists.
Stanford's last possession of the half summarizes the first 20 minutes of play. Stanford, off the good penetration they've shown all half long, got the ball into Jack Trotter from a somewhat out-of-control Jarrett Mann. But Trotter, from point-blank range, simply wasn't strong enough to power through his man and lay it in. Stanford went into the half in a disappointing tie, despite a golden opportunity to take the lead.
16 to go, Northwestern 39, Stanford 39
Second half starts with three Stanford turnovers in the first two minutes, including yet another from Mann, who stepped on the baseline on one of his out-of-control drives. Zimmerman also wasn't strong enough to power through contact from point-blank range, like Trotter at the end of the half. Dawkins elects to keep Zimmerman in the game despite the big man picking up his third foul early (in just five minutes of play!), and the sophomore forward rewards his coach by drawing a charge. Fields splits a pair, which actually raises Stanford's average from the stripe, and then he replays his monster dunk from the late first half, this time using a head fake to clear out his would-be defender and driving in hard from 14 feet out. "Landry Fields better not do that in Palo Alto because of the San Andreas fault," the color guy says. He has 14, and then a wide-open layup gives him 16. Zimmerman picks up his fourth foul in six minutes of play as we head into the under-16 media timeout.
12 to go, Northwestern 46, Stanford 41
Consistent with non-Pac-10 refs everywhere, these officials are letting more go than Stanford is used to. Can Stanford respond and get more aggressive in the offensive post? Well, Trotter picks up his third and fourth fouls and Zimmerman has four too, so it's going to be tough. Green cuts one way and Mann passes it another, so Mann's at seven turnovers and en route to a double-double you don't want to have (and I don't think I've ever seen before.) Somewhat luckily for him, he picks up his fourth foul, so he hits the bench and 10 turnovers look unlikely. Northwestern exploits the absence of Stanford's starting big men by attacking the paint and jump to a 44-39 lead with 14 to go. Fields gives the same head fake on the right baseline, which is quickly becoming his spot on the court, and, doubtlessly traumatized by the last two dunks, his defender sags five feet off. Fields buries it. Northwestern slashes and hits two more free throws. Fields gets a bump on the other end – officials are starting to blow more whistles. Green also picks up his fourth foul with 12:35 to go, though Northwestern misses the pair. It's Igbinosa, Harris, Bullock, Fields and Shiller out there with Green, Mann, Trotter and Zimmerman at four fouls. Wow. Northwestern travels, Igbinosa misses two wide-open threes – funny how he never did that when I played against him pickup – and then hacks on the other end to send us to the under-12 timeout.
If Stanford does lose, these four minutes are going to be where the game was lost. The officials suddenly took their whistle-blowing intensity from a three to a nine, and now all of Stanford's starters save for Fields are on the bench with four fouls. Part of the problem though is that the fouls aren't the "I'm a strong senior and going to lean into contact and get away with more than I should" variety, they're the "I'm a freshman caught flat-footed off the dribble and am going to hack the guy blowing by me to prevent a wide-open layup" variety, if that makes any sense. Or "I just turned it over and am angry, so hack, hack 70 feet from the hoop." The so-called bad fouls. Once we start playing stronger and, most of all, smarter, we're going to get more calls.
7:25 to go, Northwestern 52, Stanford 48
With Northwestern starting to double Fields, Shiller's open for his fourth three attempt of the game. He's 4-of-4, swish. Fields again benefits from a NW breakdown for a wide-open layup, and Igbinosa again has lost his man and has to hack from behind. Announcers said he turned his head. Two quick fouls, two missed threes for him. Card bring Green back for him. NW's missed free throws and defensive breakdowns are keeping Stanford in this. Green gets beat on a backdoor cut, but Harris cleans up with an unreal block – so unreal that he actually hurts his thumb and has to leave the game briefly. DaVeed Dildy's in street clothes and congratulates him as he hits the bench. Fields outboards three Wildcats and lays it up and in. Mann comes back, drops a ball 35 feet from the hoop, and then fouls the man who stole it from him with 8:36 left. Ugly sequence for him. Green, with a telegraphed pass, commits another turnover. Northwestern switches into the 1-3-1 which they used to extract Mann's fifth foul and Stanford's forced into another ugly shot. Stanford has 24 fouls to Northwestern's 12 and 14 turnovers to the Cats' six. This squad is in a position that's the exact inverse of what Stanford fans are used to: we have the athletic advantage over our opponents, but low basketball IQ is causing us to make more stupid mistakes than our foes. In turn, these mistakes -- bad fouls, turnovers and missed free throws -- have proved decisive in nearly every loss we've suffered this season.
2:23 to go, Northwestern 60, Stanford 56
Northwestern has just one field goal in the last eight minutes, but Shurna buries a key two to snap the streak and push the NW lead to nine: 57-48. The 1-3-1 halfcourt press is giving Stanford all sorts of headaches and the Card keep turning it over to keep NW comfortably in front despite the poor shooting. A made NW three and the lead's ten, Fields turnover 35 feet from the hoop (perhaps the most frustrating thing about all of these turnovers and fouls is how many are occurring right across the timeline), NW offensive rebound and shot clock reset, and Cats bleed the clock… only to airball a wide-open three. With a 20-footer, Green cuts the lead to 60-52 with 4:11 to go and Dawkins calls timeout. Fields has 24 and Shiller has 12. Green is just 2-of-12. Stanford shows full-court press out of the timeout, which NW breaks, but no harm in trying since they're not going to push in transition anyways, preferring to run clock. Good recognition by Dawkins: a full-court press is all upside, no downside. Green gets an open transition layup off a NW miss. Green fakes a three, his man bites, and so he buries an 18-footer from the baseline. 60-56 Northwestern with 2:45 to go, Green with six straight points after starting 1-of-11. A major reason for the 6-0 spurt is Northwestern switching from a score-points to a run-clock offense. They're forcing up low-percentage shots late in the clock, making it far easier for the Card to come back. Why let off the gas right when your offense finally starts clicking? Oops.
Final: Northwestern 70, Stanford 62
Women up 38-29 – with under 14 left! Wow that's low-scoring. They're holding UT under 30 percent overall and 1-of-9 deep. … Men have 24 fouls and 18 turnovers and can't come up with the board off a missed NW three. Shiller draws a huge charge though – this is the best overall game I've seen him play, independent of the 4-of-5 three-point shooting. Green makes a contested three with a man in his face coming off a screen. A classic "No, no, no… yes!" shot. He has NINE straight, and don't tell him that there's no such thing as a hot hand in basketball. 60-59 1:46 to go. Stanford three-quarter pressing, NW timeout with 1:35 left. Wide-open NW three pushes the margin back to four – overpursuit by Stanford defensively created the opening. Green misses a contested, off-balance three, tied up ball, possession arrow Wildcats. Stanford has to foul, but waits for it to get to a NW big man, something we never did under Trent Johnson. Crawford rewards the strategy by splitting a pair for NW, but then a both a Harris three attempt, and, off an O board, a Zimmerman put back spin in and out. Bad luck. Zimmerman's played really strong down the stretch, miss notwithstanding. He has a bright future. Fields misses a three and it's all over with NW up seven and on the line. Two straight games in which Stanford cut an early deficit down to one and made it exciting late, but could never retake the lead, in no small part due to turnovers, fouls and missed free throws.
Player of the game: Landry Fields
Unsung hero of the game: Drew Shiller
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