It’s the start of February, which, in the world of college basketball, only means one thing. One more month until March.
With the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament looming, the Stanford Cardinal (16-6, 6-4 Pac-12) is one of the many teams on the bubble. With a 68-team field, many talented teams will surely be left out. A win here or a loss there could decide the Card’s fate, making nearly every game a must-win. This was Stanford’s mindset going into Thursday night’s matchup against the Arizona State Sun Devils (7-15, 3-7) in front of the Cardinal’s home crowd at Maples Pavilion, as it blew the Sun Devils out, 68-44.
Things didn’t start out smoothly for Stanford, however, as it fell behind 12-7 on a Chris Colvin three-point jumper with 13:48 left in the first half.
That lead wouldn’t last long for Arizona State, as sophomore guard Anthony Brown started heating up. Brown finished the night with 11 points off the bench, all of which came in the last 6:38 of the first half. He went 3-of-5 from the three-point line during this stretch and added an outside jumper. This included a three as the shot clock expired with just seven seconds left in the first half, giving Stanford a 28-20 lead going into the break.
This would prove to be all the momentum the Cardinal needed, as it would not fall behind again. A pair of threes from sophomore guard Aaron Bright and a jumper by senior forward Josh Owens had Stanford up 14 just two minutes into the second half. This would be part of a massive 16-1 run for the Cardinal, which put the team up 44-23 with 13:27 remaining in the second half. That early deficit was completely forgotten, as Stanford was now firing on all cylinders.
The Cardinal continued to run the table, overwhelming the Sun Devils with explosive offensive attacks and shutdown defense. Behind the stellar play of young guards Bright and freshman Chasson Randle, the Stanford offense looked like a well-oiled machine. The Cardinal distributed the ball well, recording 14 assists against only four for Arizona State. This allowed everyone to get into the act, as Stanford had a very balanced scoring attack.
A pair of free throws from senior forward Andrew Zimmerman gave Stanford a 27-point lead, its biggest of the game, with 2:12 on the clock. The Cardinal would close out the game, giving the squad a much-needed win.
Bright led the way for Stanford, scoring 16 points to go along with four assists. Randle pitched in with 14 points as well. The young guards have been key to Stanford’s offense this year, giving the fans reason to believe that they have a good couple of years in store. Still, they have their eyes set on making a run this season.
After a rough stretch, this win puts Stanford right back into the Pac-12 mix. The Cardinal trails the Washington Huskies, who are 8-2 in the Pac-12, by just two games, with eight left on the schedule.
On Saturday, Stanford will welcome Arizona (15-8, 6-4) into Maples, and both teams will be looking to get back-to-back wins and get back into the heart of the Pac-12 conference race.
On Thursday, the Wildcats’ 78-74 upset victory over Cal pushed them to just two games behind conference leader Washington and into a tie with Stanford in the conference standings at 6-4.
If the Cardinal hopes to upset the Wildcats, its number-one goal will be to slow down junior forward Solomon Hill, who leads the team in just about every offensive category. The 6-foot-6 Hill averages 12.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, just outpacing senior guard Kyle Fogg’s 12.0 points per game and senior forward Jesse Perry’s 11.6 points per game.
A win for either team would be a significant boost for the second half of the conference season, as the Cardinal and Wildcats are part of a herd of six teams that trail Washington by three or fewer games in the Pac-12. In a conference with so much parity and probably only one or two NCAA Tournament bids on the line, every win over a quality opponent is critical.
The Cardinal and Wildcats tip off this Saturday at noon at Maples Pavilion.