Despite a very tough night from the free-throw line — Stanford went 5-17 at the charity stripe — the men’s basketball team staved off a scrappy Utah team to continue its run of conference success with a 68-65 win on Thursday night.
The Cardinal (14-3, 4-1 Pac-12) was favored by 23 heading into the contest, but struggled to contain the Utes’ offense, which came into the game 333rd in the country averaging just 56.9 points per game. Guard Chris Hine scored a career-high 21 points for Utah (4-12, 1-3), routinely splitting the defense for layups.
On offense, Stanford was an efficient scorer, shooting 53.8 percent from the field and a solid 41.2 percent from behind the three-point arc. But the Card had 18 turnovers and several times gave the ball away by throwing passes out of bounds or dribbling off its own feet.
With a rowdy student section providing plenty of support despite an announced attendance of just 4,981, Stanford had several highlight-worthy plays. Redshirt senior Josh Owens threw down a one-handed slam off a breakaway in the first half, and sophomore forwards Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis both emphatically finished plays above the rim.
It was Huestis who really put the team on his back in the second half, scoring all 13 of his points down the stretch on 6-6 shooting from the field. The 6-foot-7 forward from Great Falls, Mont. also chipped in 10 rebounds in one of the best games of his career.
With the Utes picked to finish 12th by the media in their first season in the Pac-12 and already winless on the road so far this season, Stanford looked to be on its way to a big win despite some early struggles on offense.
Utah did not pick up its first bucket until almost four minutes into the game, and did not score again until a layup by Hines at the 9:22 mark in the first half. But the Cardinal led by only eight at that point, and two more quick baskets by the Utes cut the lead to three with a little over seven minutes left in the half.
A 10-point run by Stanford gave the Card a little breathing room, but Utah ended the half with a seven-point response of its own to tighten things up at the break.
Play opened up early in the second half with plenty of points on both sides. Four consecutive three-pointers by the Utes saw them take their first lead of the game less than three minutes into the half at 39-37.
A steal and layup by Hines pushed the lead to 43-39, the Utes’ biggest advantage of the night. That’s when Huestis came on strong, scoring eight of his points in the next six minutes. Stanford pushed its lead back to seven with a nice run, and a three-pointer by Huestis on the wing had coach Johnny Dawkins animated on the sideline as the Card seemed to ice the game with 3:42 to play.
But Utah refused to go away.
Down by 10 with just 43 seconds to go, the Utes went on a seven-point run as Stanford turned the ball over and missed two free throws. After a missed foul shot by Utah’s Dijon Farr, two game-tying three-point attempts were off line, giving the Card a 68-65 victory and moving it into a tie with Cal for first place in the crowded Pac-12.