Julius Barnes led the way and Stanford utilized an effective game plan to
defeat Arizona State 88-77 at Maples Pavilion Thursday night. With the
win, Stanford moved into sole possession of second place in the Pac-10 with a
13-3 conference record (22-6 overall). Barnes, Stanford's senior point
guard, scored 29 points for the victors. Freshman center Ike Diogu led the
way for ASU with 26 points and nine rebounds.
The contest looked like it would be a tough battle from the inception, as neither team could establish a lead of more than two points until the Sun Devils capitalized on back to back baskets by super frosh Diogu and Tommy Smith to go up 16-11. As the home crowd started to become more agitated and vocal, the Card strung together a 13-0 run featuring back-to-back three pointers by Julius Barnes that turned a 16-all tie into a six-point lead that the Card never relinquished.
Stanford gradually extended its lead throughout the rest of the first half, eventually taking a 48-36 lead into the intermission. The first half was one of the more impressive displays of basketball turned in by Stanford this season, as the team shot a blistering 17-26 (65.4%) from the field, including 4-of-4 from beyond the arc. Despite Arizona State's defensive pressure, which more often than not was employed from baseline to baseline, the Card turned the ball over just five times in the first half, while ASU failed to tally even a single steal. As impressive as Barnes' 16 first half points were, his solid ballhandling against ASU's pressure was just as important to Stanford's first half blitz as his scoring. Another key to the Card's first half performance was Rob Little's ability to keep Ike Diogu from going off. Diogu, who came into the game averaging 18.7 ppg on 60% shooting from the field and 7.3 rpg, managed 11 points and four boards, but committed two fouls. Little tallied eight points and five boards before the break, and perhaps more importantly, committed no fouls in an uncharacteristically high 16 minutes of play.
The Sun Devils came on strong after the break and trimmed the lead to four at 53-49. Jumpers by Nick Robinson, Justin Davis and Rob Little extended the Stanford lead to a more comfortable margin by the "12 minute" timeout. The Sun Devils were never able to narrow the gap to less than six the rest of the way, despite employing a rarely seen defense late in the contest. Although the Devils had played almost exclusively full court man-to-man defense throughout the first 30-plus minutes of the game (except for one interesting possession when ASU showed a 2-2-1 full court press falling back into a 2-3 zone), coach Rob Evans went to a 1-2-2 zone late in the game. It was a clever wrinkle by Evans, and it took Stanford a number of possessions to figure out a way to attack the zone effectively. "The zone hurt us a little more than I thought it would. They defended our perimeter really well. For a while, neither Matt [Lottich] nor Josh [Childress] could get a shot off," said Mike Montgomery after the game.
Against a traditional 2-3 zone, Stanford, like most teams, will utilize a three out/two in set to generate open looks from the perimeter. Against a 3-2 zone, that approach doesn't work well. The 3-2 zone is more vulnerable along the baseline and to penetration into the paint, and although Stanford got some open looks from three-point range along the baseline, Stanford wasn't able to convert consistently from deep. After looking befuddled for a while, Barnes began to look for opportunities to penetrate, and he was able to blow by a variety of ASU defenders to get into the lane when the offense was otherwise stagnating. Barnes drew a slew of fouls and got to the line down the stretch for critical free throws. With about four minutes left in the contest, Little made what may have been the most important play of the game. The center got the ball in great position on the right block, gave an up-fake to get Diogu in the air, and then drew the fifth foul on the ASU star.
"Rob is not the kind of guy who draws those fouls," admitted Montgomery. But Little felt like it was a play waiting to happen: "We figured we could get him get him in the air, and it worked."
Although Little missed both free throws badly, Diogu's fouling out was the
final nail in the coffin for ASU, and the Devils were largely out of synch on
offense for the remainder of the game. Also noteworthy down the stretch
were tough and timely offensive boards by Justin Davis, who finished with a game
high 11 boards in just 21 minutes of action.
Overall, this was one of Stanford's better offensive performances of the season. "We were for the most part taking good shots tonight," opined Barnes after the game. ASU played extremely hard on both ends of the floor, and its defensive pressure in particular was impressive. Nevertheless, Stanford never failed to get the ball safely over the timeline and initiate the half-court offense, and Stanford committed only 10 turnovers on the game. Despite being responsible for the ballhandling duties for almost the entire game (with the exception of a limited number of possessions where Matt Lottich, Josh Childress or Dan Grunfeld brought the ball up) Barnes committed but one turnover for the game.
Stanford's offense was extremely efficient, and despite some struggles against ASU's 3-2 zone defense late in the game, managed to shoot an impressive 52% from the field overall and 50% (7-14) from three-point range. Barnes' offensive performance may have been one of the ten or so best by a Stanford point guard since Brevin Knight ran the show back in the mid-90's. The lone scholarship senior this year for Stanford finished 6-of-11 from the field, including 4-of-5 on three-pointers, and made all 13 of his free throw attempts. Josh Childress turned in one of his better shooting nights of the season, making 8-of-14 from the field despite missing four of his six attempts from deep. Rob Little was the third Stanford starter to tally double figures in points, scoring 10 on 5-of-10 shooting from the field (0-2 from the line). More important than Little's points, however, were the fouls he drew from Diogu. ASU was a completely different team without the frosh phenom, and the outcome of the game may have been different had Little not managed to foul him out.
"Finally I got to stay in a complete game, without any real foul trouble,"
said the pleased sophomore big body. "It's also nice to bang against
a guy my size."
Stanford's offensive showing Thursday night stood in marked contrast to the Card's