And 1: Cal 71, Stanford 61

The Bootleg's Kevin "Kevo" Danna follows up the final regular-season game against California with his thoughts on some of the events of the week leading up to this afternoon's start of the Pac-10 Conference Tournament.

And 1: Cal 71, Stanford 61

The end of the Pac-10 regular season left a bitter taste in the mouth of the Farm Boys, as they dropped a hard fought 71-61 decision to the outright Pac-10 champion Cal Golden Bears on Saturday afternoon.  The loss made it the third in a row for Stanford, which finished the regular season with a 13-17 record, 7-11 in the Pac-10.  Luckily, Oregon was able to handle Washington State, giving the Card the seventh seed in the Pac-10 tournament and a much-needed Wednesday "bye".  While Arizona State lies ahead on the horizon, let's take a look in the rear view mirror and digest what happened at Maples on Saturday.

Let's start off by getting the free throw talk out of the way.  For one reason or another, Stanford shoots much better from the charity stripe away from home.  In our team's 14 games away from Maples, they are 191-276 from the free throw line, a 69.2% clip.  In the last five road games, however, the Cardinal are shooting 62-78 from freebie territory, just under 80%.  At home?  The Farm Boys are 217-335 (64.8%) and went 7-13 against Cal.  That is just one of those quirky stats - I don't know how to explain it; it is just that Stanford seems to have a tougher time making free throws at home.  Perhaps this is a good sign going forward, since our remaining games will be away from Maples.  On the positive side with respect to home free-throw shooting, our guys made some key free throws down the stretch and hit six of their last seven attempts from the stripe, something hopefully the guys will be able to build off going into Los Angeles.  Also, our guys don't shy away from the line and they step to it with confidence.  You ever see Landry not want to take the big free throw in crunch time?  As a rule, we have a good bit of guys who want the ball in their hands, and that's the first step towards improved free throw shooting.

While a team can work on its free throw shooting all they want, one thing they are completely at the mercy of luck is how the opponents shoot their free throws.  In a season with a lot of tough breaks, this is the one stat that really sums up the Card's luck this season.  While the collegiate average for a team's free throw shooting percentage is 68.8%, Cardinal opponents shoot 71.5% from the line on the season.  That opponent free-throw percentage is 298th in the nation, and there is absolutely no way of preventing good free throw shooting from happening.  That 2.7% difference might not sound like much, but it is one or two more points per game depending on how many free throws were attempted.  And, as we all know, that extra point or two has been a deciding factor in at least a few games that went against Stanford.  As for Cal on Saturday?  They shot 16-19 from the stripe (84.2%).  Again, no way to defend that. 

However, I'm not making excuses, and in fact, that opponent free throw percentage statistic doesn't look as bad after further research.  Only in 15 of Stanford's 30 games did their opponent shoot above their season average.  In the Card's 17 losses, the opponent shot above their average in nine games.  In the 13 losses in which Stanford had what I considered a serious chance to win (one or two possession game with under 10 minutes to play), opponents shot above their average eight of those times.  So, there isn't too much reason to think that this team is just doomed when it comes to opponent freebies.  It is more of a problem of facing teams that usually shoot free throws well, something you should expect playing in a power conference.

Ok enough about free throws. The rebounding edge was decidedly in Cal's favor 41-30, as the Bears were able to take advantage of the offensive glass with Stanford playing zone for the vast majority of the game.  It was a "Catch-22" for the Cardinal - either you try to match up with an extremely quick backcourt and perhaps let the perimeter runs rampant, or you try to neutralize that speed with a 3-2 or 1-2-2 look and have a greater chance of getting beat off the glass.  And, considering what transpired between these two teams in Berkeley, going zone was definitely the right call.  The few possessions we went zone against the Bears in Haas, Cal looked confused and didn't run their offense as smoothly as they did when facing the Stanford man defense.  Stanford did pretty well defending the perimeter and held the Bears to 42.4% shooting on the afternoon.  Unfortunately, Cal retrieved 14 of their misses (five of them dead-ball) and that translated into 18 second-chance points for the Bears.

When the game was in the balance down the stretch, it was all about Patrick Christopher.  The Senior guard hit big shot after big shot in clutch situations for Cal.  Jeremy Green came through with a couple of great makes for the Cardinal late in the second half, and each time he hit, Christopher seemed to have the answer.  He wasn't getting wide-open shots either; in fact, he missed his most open shot of the game.  All Christopher needed was an ounce of daylight, and he was putting it up, and it was going in.  He finished with 23 points, 17 of them in the second half when he shot 6-10 from the floor.

And then there was the whole "Landry vs. Jerome" star watch issue.  Was it really surprising how their stats stacked up against each other?  Landry's 25 points and 12 rebounds completely dwarfed Randle's 11 points, four rebounds and five assists.  And it's not only that: Landry shot 10-21 from the field, while Jerome only went 2-10.  A lot of credit has to go to Drew Shiller for playing OUTSTANDING defense on Jerome, especially in the second half.  Jerome Randle is arguably the fastest guard in the conference, yet Drew stayed with him every step of his way to the hoop or around the arc.  Drew might have only scored his average of eight points, but due to his defensive performance, it was one of his best games in a Cardinal uniform.

While Shiller effectively shut down Randle, the Bears had a very tough time guarding Landry Fields.  Cal threw numerous guys Landry's way - Christopher, Boykin, Amoke to name a few- and nobody had much success defending what rightfully should have been the Pac-10 Player of the Year.  Seriously, in good conscience, how could that award be given to Randle over Landry after Saturday's game?  No disrespect to Jerome, who is a very good player and will be playing 82 games next year, but come on.  Randle had seven games this season in which he scored fewer than 13 points, and six of them came in conference play.  How many times did that happen to Landry?  Uh, never.  Outside of one game where he scored 14 points, Landry scored at least 15 in every game this season. 

I'm not sure what the official criteria for a Pac-10 Player of the Year candidate is, but I figure it is somewhere along the lines of these three: the player with the best all around stats, the player that made the biggest impact consistently on the success of his team, or the most dominant player in the conference.  There is no other player in the conference that has comparable stats to Landry, no other player that affected the course of a game in a more positive fashion for his team, and certainly no other guy as dominant as Sir Fields.  This year, the award was given to the best player on the team with the best record, something that hasn't always been the case.  Stanford might have finished 8th in the conference, but the conference player of the year sounds like an individual award.  Even if it wasn't an individual award, Landry should still get it because he probably won more games for his team than any other player in the Pac-10.  First Toby Gerhart, now Landry Fields?  Next thing you know, Jake Locker will be considered the Pac-10's elite quarterback even though Andrew Luck will have far and away a much better season.

Enough grumbling for me.  Let's get three wins down in the Staples Center, starting off with the Sun Devils tonight at 6:00pm.  Come on out to Staples, watch the game on FSN/CSN, or listen to Flemming and Platz. One way or another, follow the game on Thursday night, and check back on for great post-game thoughts and analysis from "Boom Boom" Salloom!

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