Red-hot Cardinal Quell Upstart UCLA

UCLA has been been a horribly troubled program this year, but still bring a cadre of McDonalds All-Americans to the mix. Two of those threats went off Saturday from behind the three-point line, but Stanford countered with their own sharpshooting display in a heated 93-84 win. With the frontcourt fumbling, Julius Barnes and Matt Lottich scored a combined 47 in the game.

The atmosphere of the game was bizzare. It has been a few years since I attended a Stanford-UCLA tussle at Pauley Pavilion, and my oh my how times have changed. The cavernous arena spreads seats across a very wide bowl, but when the attendees are sparse in number and catatonic in their game presence, it made for a uniquely non-partisan atmosphere. When the Bruins made a couple of their second half runs, the Bruin backers did rally for a little noise, but for most of the game it was deathly quiet. I would liken the feel of the crowd to that of a post-season game at a neutral site, though with even less noise than you'd expect on the road from travelling fans. Pauley Pavilion was a veritable tomb Saturday, beyond even its metaphorical sense with this most disastrous of UCLA seasons.

Too bad for UCLA fans, who missed a heck of a game. Both teams turned up the heat with big scoring bursts, hitting tough shots inside and out throughout the game. Stanford shot 60.4% from the field in the game, which was the second best shooting performance of the year (#1 was 67.4% vs UC Irvine) and the first time this year that the Cardinal has shot better than 50% from the field in a conference game. The 58.8% shooting by the Card from behind the three-point line was also the best of the conference season and second only to the Irvine game for the year. The Bruins were not hurting for three-point production, either, hitting a red-hot 55.0% from outside the arc. 5th year senior Ray Young tied a career high with 22 points in the game, including a perfect 5-for-5 shooting from three-point range.

The game started with the Card crackling like a blazing fire, taking a quick 11-2 lead that eventually grew to 29-13 by the eight-minute mark in the first half. Stanford was hitting shots from all over the field, including three Matt Lottich treys in the first nine minutes of the game. Julius Barnes was the other aggressor for the Cardinal, scoring 11 points early to build that 16-point lead. But Ray Young and Jason Kapono would get their feet under them, with 14 and 11 first half points respectively, and started to rifle their own rockets to bring the Bruins back in contention. UCLA closed the half on a 12-5 run including a dunk by Ryan Hollins just before time expired to narrow the Stanford lead to just five points.

Then to start the second half, Kapono continued his assault with a pair of made three-pointers in the opening minute, which incredibly gave UCLA their first lead of game at 45-44. Stanford's controlling momentum was, for the time, lost but would soon be reclaimed. Stanford scored its first points of the half on the very next possession as Josh Childress pulled up for midrange jumpshot. Freshman Dan Grunfeld would next drive the lane against the lax Bruin defense for a leaning lay-in. The killer came, though, when Lottich drilled back-to-back three-pointers to suddenly hand the Cardinal a nine-point lead at 54-45.

UCLA would fight back with a 12-5 run to close the margin to just two points, and then tie the game at 63-63 at the nine-minute mark on an emphatic Andre Patterson dunk. Stanford was fighting arguably its only slack stretch of the game when they failed to score for more than four minutes, but after the Patterson slam that pulled the game even and some comatose UCLA fans begrudingly to their feet, senior Julius Barnes took matters into his own hands. The Stanford point guard was playing the final game of his college career in his old L.A. stomping grounds, and was aggressive throughout the game. He ran the floor in transition to grab easy points against a sluggish Bruin defense, and attacked the basket regularly from the perimeter. Though his 4-of-7 three-point shooting may have done due damage in the game, it was his free throw shooting that sealed the deal. He broke the 63-all tie when he went to the line and hit both free throws, and would make four more from the charity stripe in the final minute of the game.

Barnes finished the game with 27 points, scoring 13 points in the final nine minutes of the game. It was a very complete game for the senior, who turned the ball over only three times, while registering seven assists. His shot selection was perhaps his best of the year, and he showed a great understanding for when and where to attack UCLA's defense. More amazing was that he accomplished all this while playing all 40 minutes of the game. Barnes has averaged 22.6 points in his last five games and has now scored 27 or more points in four of his last nine games. And Cardinalmaniacs™ couldn't be happier that the somewhat beleaguered Stanford senior is putting his best basketball together as the Cardinal make their stretch run. If you want to nitpick Barnes' one black mark in the game, it would be his clock management with early shot attempts at the close of the first half and again late in the second half.

The other backcourt hero was Matt Lottich, who nailed 5-of-7 three-point attempts. This despite a shot to his mouth (which was called a foul on Lottich) that held him out of the game for stitches, returning shortly after the start of the second half. His treys were catch-and-shoot gems, mostly coming with a defender right in front of him. He was in a zone, and hopefully on the upswing. Lottich also made four three-pointers Thursday at USC, after a four-game stretch in which he hit just 3-of-20 shots from outside. Tack on some free throws and two-point jumper, and you get his total of 20 points. It was the fourth time this year that the Chicagoland junior has hit five treys, though the first time he has reached 20 points since the January game at Arizona.

For the game, Stanford did an excellent job of driving into the lane and the dishing out to an open Barnes or Lottich, who accounted for nine of Stanford's 10 treys. The other made three-point field goal came from freshman Dan Grunfeld, who last had hit a shot from that range at Arizona. Grunfeld had a slump-busting game Saturday, scoring nine points on 4-of-6 shooting and playing with tremendous poise. As he had shown earlier in the season, the New Jersey native did not dazzle you with highlight reel plays, but was so very fundamentally sound in finding seems in the defense and scoring close to the basket. His points came from outside, midrange and driving to the basket. After failing to register a field goal in his previous five games, Grunfeld looked like the Gonzaga-game hero all over again. Kudos to the savvy freshman scorer.

The frontcourt did not produce in this game, most notably with Justin Davis experiencing a good deal of foul trouble and little offensive success. The rising tide for this redshirt junior forward finally sank, with just seven points in just 15 minutes. Davis was very aggressive in his offensive moves, when he caught the ball typically eight feet from the basket. But his spin moves did not produce finishes down low, and instead resulted in fouls and turnovers. If there is one lesson learned from this game, it is that Stanford needs to get the ball to Davis deeper in the paint, which gives him a better zone of latitude with which to operate. Indeed, his one made field goal came when he received a lob pass just a couple feet from the basket.

Davis was however of Stanford's many top performers at the free throw line, hitting 5-of-6 on the afternoon. That brings his his free throw streak over the past three games to 18-of-22, an 82% clip that has raised his season average to its current 60%. Barnes was a perfect 7-of-7 from the line, raising his season average to a shade under 82%. Lottich hit 3-for-4, with his lone miss coming on Stanford's final free throw attempt of the game. Davis' miss was the Cardinal's first attempt of the game, with no misses in the 19 intervening attempts.

The other Card to hit from the stripe was sophomore center Rob Little, who nailed all four of his chances at the line. Little played a solid offensive game, scoring right off the bat on a low post feed for the first basket of the game, and finishing 3-of-5 from the field in the game. He could not escape foul trouble, picking up three whistles in the first half and a fourth early in the second stanza. But with starting frontcourt mate Justin Davis in equally difficult straits, Little did play 24 minutes. Like Davis, several of his fouls were very unnecessary, which will hurt the Cardinal in March if Barnes and Lottich can't hit like they did in this game.

The 93 points for Stanford was nine more than they had scored in any game this year, and the 174 total points in the game clearly outdistanced any other Stanford game this year. Four players hit double figures in the game (Barnes, Lottich, Little and Josh Childress), though UCLA also placed four of their own in double digits. With both teams scoring at such high percentages, there were not many rebounding opportunities for either squad. The battle on the boards was essentially a draw, with the Cardinal edging the Bruins in the 25-24 final tally. But this was the first game this year in which Stanford did not pull down at least 30 rebounds. The win is widely recognized as the sixth straight for Stanford at Pauley Pavilion, but more importantly is the Card's fifth straight win this season. Stanford had previously strung together four consecutive wins three times, but never five.

Complete game box score


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