And 1: Arizona State 68, Stanford 60

Men's Basketball Writer Kevin "Kevo" Danna provides the Bootleg faithful a look at the game flow, stats, facts, and his observations after Stanford couldn't hold onto an early lead, losing to the Arizona State Sun Devils by a final score of 68-60 at Maples Pavilion on Thursday night.

Right after the final buzzer sounded signaling Stanford's ninth Pac-10 loss on the season, a friend turned to me and said "if you had told me before the game that Rihards Kuksiks wouldn't hit a field goal and Ty Abbott only had ten points but we would lose by eight, I would have said you were crazy."  And I would have had to agree with him, too, but that was the case at Maples Pavilion on Thursday night.  Kuksiks didn't score a point until he hit a couple of free throws in the final seconds and Ty Abbott, who scorched Stanford for 29 and 12 rebounds in Tempe and just put up 28 against the Wildcats on Sunday, was held to 4-11 shooting from the field and 2-6 beyond the arc.  Despite their two leading scorers combining for just 12 points, the Sun Devils found a way to come from behind and get a crucial road win to stay within a half-game of the Golden Bears for first place.  So what's the deal?

You wouldn't find your answer looking at the team stats.  Stanford really held their own in just about every statistical category: Arizona State shot 44.4% from the field and 31.8% from three-point territory compared to Stanford's numbers of 43.4% and 30.8%, respectively, and both teams had fewer than ten turnovers.  Most importantly in most cases for the Cardinal, they outrebounded their opponent tonight 33-31.

All looks decent until you look at the stat line of one Sun Devil - Senior center Eric Boateng, who led all scorers with 24 points on 11-11 shooting.  That's right, he was PERFECT from the field (although you can't say that about his free-throw shooting after airballing one late in the second half!).  You would figure that at least one would be off - not the case on Thursday night.  But when you think about it, he really better have gone 11-11 or he probably would have been at least the slightest bit disappointed with his play.  He is not the second-coming of Jesus Christ down low by any stretch of the imagination, but he did three basic things very well against the Cardinal: he made good use of his pivot foot, he fought hard to get great positioning on the low block, and he moved very well without the basketball by cutting on a rope to the paint.  All of these aspects of his game on Thursday night allowed him to get the chippiest of chippies against Stanford.  When he wasn't slamming it down for the authoritative two, he was laying it up softly for the easy deuce.  He didn't take one shot outside of two feet all game long, and when you're getting those kinds of looks, you better be perfect.  You would think that someone who is getting those kinds of looks is getting them off putbacks, but our bigs did a very solid job of keeping Boateng off the glass as he finished with six boards and only three of them offensive.  But he worked very hard in the post all night for positioning and he was rewarded.  It was a night that would have made Coach K wish he didn't let the kid transfer out West!

Another reason why Boateng got so many great looks around the hoop was because of the four other maroon-clad guys around him.  This is one of the best-coached teams on the West Coast, and it showed on Thursday night.  This team was very patient on the offensive end.   Even when Stanford pulled ahead 23-12 midway through the first half, they never strayed away from the Sendek Vision.   They occasionally passed up open looks (Derek Glasser in particular), but it was always for the sake of making the extra pass, and many times it would lead to one Sun Devil driving into the paint, forcing the guy guarding Boateng to step up, and then the Devil dumping it off to the now-open big fella for a slam-a-lam-a-ding-dong or some other sort of easy finish.

Speaking of patience, Stanford had a lot of its own offensively.  It was the big reason why the Farm Boys got out to that aforementioned 11-point lead in the first half.  Stanford rarely forced anything in the first part of the game and it led to wide-open looks for anyone who was hanging around the perimeter, mostly Drew Shiller and Jeremy Green.  Playing against a zone, it was common knowledge that those opportunities were going to be there for Stanford all game long.  In the first half, they cashed in on them; in the second half, they didn't.  When Stanford got down in the second half and couldn't hit their shots, they still didn't try to rush things, which is a good sign.  But at the end of the day, that Sun Devil defense was just too hard to crack for the Cardinal.

Time for individual shout-outs.  Obviously, Drew Shiller got the Cardinal off to the start they desperately needed by hitting three big long-distance shots and then zooming past Jamelle McMillan in a late clock situation to quickly get to 11 points.  He has had three fantastic halves in the last three games, and here's to hoping he has two more of them against Arizona

Jack Trotter continues to improve with his basket finishes, and it all really starts with his in-season progress made in catching passes in traffic down low.  The only one he didn't finish was when he got a bloody lip after being slapped by Boateng and earned himself a trip to the line.  I was especially a fan of his quick-witted decision to not dunk one when the shot clock was about to expire and just floated it in for the deuce.

Also, I was a big fan of Coach Dawkins' choices of when to sub out Landry - about 30 seconds before a mandatory timeout was coming in the second half of each half.  By doing this, he was able to give Landry a couple extra minutes of rest without keeping him off the floor for too long.  However, when Landry was subbed out at 8:25 in the second half and his team down by six, the next dead ball whistle didn't come until there was 5:07 remaining.  How often, in a closely-contested game deep in the second half, a game involving a normally-pretty physical Arizona State team, do you see three minutes and 18 seconds tick off the clock without there being a foul or a ball going out of bounds?  It was one of the very rare occasions where the lack of a media timeout for an extended period of time really had a substantial impact on the game.

Despite the loss, the dream for a .500 Pac-10 season is still alive, and the journey continues at Maples Pavilion at 4pm on Saturday against the Arizona Wildcats.  Wear black, cheer on the Card, and check back on afterwards for in-depth analysis!
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