It’s finally March, which, in the world of college basketball, can only mean one thing: it’s tournament time.
In the next two weeks, all of NCAA Division I conferences will host their league tournaments, with the winners of each guaranteed a spot in the Big Dance. For Stanford, and possibly every other team in the infamously weak Pac-12, winning the conference tournament is the only way in. This week is do-or-die for the Cardinal, as a loss means the Card goes home.
Stanford (20-10, 10-8 Pac-12) travels down to Los Angeles as the No. 7 seed to take on No. 10 Arizona State (10-20, 6-12 Pac-12) at the Staples Center. On paper, the Cardinal’s first matchup appears to be favorable. But as Stanford has learned time and time again this year, no conference opponent can be overlooked.
The Cardinal delivered one of its best defensive performances of the year the first and only time these two teams met at Maples Pavilion this season. Stanford held the Sun Devils to a meager 44 points on just 34 percent shooting. The Card also grabbed 15 more rebounds than Arizona State, using its athleticism on the blocks to outwork ASU. The freshman-sophomore backcourt of Chasson Randle and Aaron Bright were nearly unstoppable, scoring a combined 30 points on 12-of-23 shooting. Bright, who led all scorers with 16, added four assists to help lead the Card to a 68-44 victory.
Much of Stanford’s focus this time around will be on stopping Arizona State’s monster in the middle, 7-foot-2 center Jordan Bachynski. Bachynski, although not considered much of a scoring threat, torched the Card in the paint for a game-high 20 points despite averaging just 5.8 per night.
The matchup at the Staples Center will be different than the one at Maples, as Arizona State will be playing with junior guard Trent Lockett, who was sidelined in the first meeting with an ankle injury. Although his six-game hiatus hurt Lockett’s play, he has recently regained the midseason form that allowed him to lead the Sun Devils in scoring. In the team’s most recent matchup against Arizona, Lockett scored a team-high 21 points on 6-of-12 shooting.
Both teams are riding positive momentum heading into the conference tournament, as both are coming off upset wins in big rivalry games.
Stanford ended Cal’s hopes of a regular-season Pac-12 title in a shocking 75-70 victory, as the Card was finally able to pull out a close game that came down to the wire, thanks in large part to two offensive rebounds from Bright in the final minute. Down in the Grand Canyon State, the Sun Devils redeemed themselves by avenging an early-season blowout, defeating Arizona in a surprising 87-80 win.
Stanford and Arizona State have had similar seasons that began with high hopes but ended with disappointment. However, the Card players are confident heading into the tournament, and after upending Cal, there is no reason to believe they can’t make a run at a conference championship. A win against the Sun Devils would mean another date with Cal, a game that would have major postseason implications.
The Card will look to keep its season alive tonight at 6 p.m. in the Staples Center.