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M. Basketball: Cardinal heads on Rocky road

 

After a tough home loss to Oregon eliminated Stanford from a first-place finish in the Pac-12, the Cardinal will take to the road for the last time in regular-season play. For the first time ever in conference play, the Stanford basketball team (18-9, 8-7 Pac-12) is heading to the Rocky Mountains, where it will take on the Pac-12’s two newest additions: the Colorado Buffaloes (18-8, 10-4) and the Utah Utes (5-21, 2-12).

Freshman guard Chasson Randle (above) led Stanford with 18 points in the Cardinal's win over Colorado last month. The two teams will square off tonight in Boulder. (IAN GARCIA-DOTY/The Stanford Daily)

 

First up for the Card is a trip to Boulder, where it will look to complete a season sweep of Buffs. Colorado has played exceptionally well following its loss to Stanford on Jan. 14, winning seven of its last nine games. After being perhaps the most controversial omission from the NCAA tournament last year, the Buffaloes are looking to make a statement in their last few conference games to earn themselves an at-large bid in this year’s tourney. Still, it is an uphill climb for Colorado, and they will probably have to win each of their final four conference games to have a solid at-large case.

 

The first time around, Stanford delivered one of its best offensive performances of the year, dismantling the Buffs en route to an 84-64 victory. The Card shot an outstanding 53 percent from the field, led by the play of guards Chasson Randle and Aaron Bright. Randle led the way with 18 points, while Bright trailed close behind with 14. Sophomore forward Josh Huestis pitched in as well with a career-high 13 points. The Card dominated on the glass, grabbing nine more rebounds than the Buffs. Stanford will look to regain midseason form in order to upset favored Colorado.

 

Colorado will look to even the score with Stanford on Thursday night. Seniors Carlon Brown and Austin Dufault will play a major role, as both are looking to end their careers with a bang. Brown leads the team in scoring with 12.3 points per game from the guard position. The Utah transfer has been a major asset for Colorado this year, and he will look to show the Stanford faithful why. The six-foot-nine forward Dufault is not far behind, averaging 11.3 points per game and shooting above 50 percent from the field.

 

However, neither of these players poses the biggest matchup problem for Stanford. That honor belongs to sophomore forward Andre Roberson, who has been a force on both ends of the court for the Buffs, averaging a double-double on the year. He leads the team in rebounds (11.3 per game) and blocks (1.1 per game), to go along with an average of 11.2 points. While Roberson was the only bright spot for the Buffs in their first matchup against Stanford, the Card managed to keep him off the boards for the most part.

 

The Cardinal then travels to Utah to take on the Utes in what looks to be a favorable matchup on paper. Utah is currently sitting at 11th in the Pac-12 and has lost its last seven games. Things didn’t go as smoothly as they should have for the Card in the teams’ first matchup, as Stanford barely managed to squeak out a 68-65 win after a late Utah charge. Huestis carried Stanford in this one, scoring all of his game-high 13 points in the second half.

 

This time around, Utah’s leading scorer, senior guard Josh Watkins, will not be in uniform. Watkins was dismissed from the team on Jan. 17 following a number of indiscretions related to his performance and attendance in class. Junior guard Chris Hines has stepped up, posting 11.1 points per game following the suspension. Stanford will also be faced with the daunting task of stopping seven-foot center Jason Washburn. Washburn leads the team in rebounds at 6.3 per game and is second in points at 10.6, behind only the dismissed Watkins. If Stanford can neutralize these two weapons, it can coast to an easy victory.

 

As the Pac-12 tournament draws nearer, the seeding picture becomes clearer and clearer for the Cardinal. Stanford is currently sitting at seventh in the conference but could easily leapfrog sixth-place UCLA with a couple of wins down the stretch.

 

Stanford will look to start with a road victory against Colorado at 7:30 p.m. tonight.