If anything has been consistent during Stanford’s up-and-down start to the season, it has been the stellar play of junior Dwight Powell. The 6-foot-9 forward has transformed into a completely different player over the summer, emerging as the talent that the coaching staff envisioned when he was one of the top recruits in his class in 2009. Powell has shown no signs of the ankle injury that plagued him throughout the 2011-12 campaign, becoming a force in the paint for the Cardinal.
Powell continued his dominant play when the Stanford Cardinal (6-3) took on the University of Denver Pioneers (1-5) at Maples Pavilion on Sunday. The Card needed a solid performance against an outmatched Pioneer squad that was reeling after three straight losses. Powell gave them just that, scoring a career-high 29 points to lead Stanford to a 71-58 victory.
The Card wasted no time grabbing the lead, jumping out to a quick 10-2 advantage after sophomore guard Chasson Randle led Powell with a nice pass to the basket. Powell finished and drew the foul, knocking down the free throw to complete the old-fashioned three-point play.
Stanford’s perimeter defense was swarming, terrorizing Denver combo player Chris Udofia to force five early turnovers. This led Denver coach Joe Scott to call a timeout with around 11 minutes remaining in the first half, hoping to get his team under control. It did little good, as the Card went on to score three straight baskets to grab a commanding 21-6 lead.
The two squads traded buckets for the remainder of the first half, Powell helping Stanford maintain a comfortable lead with a couple of baskets to close out the first half — the Cardinal went into the locker room up 35-19.
Denver picked up the offensive intensity in the second half, but Stanford’s lead proved too difficult to overcome. The Pioneers pulled to within 10 after Udofia knocked down a 3-pointer with 12:47 remaining, but that would be as close as Denver could get.
A Josh Huestis dunk immediately following placed the momentum squarely back in Stanford’s favor. Randle, Powell and junior Aaron Bright would do the rest, playing the inside-out style of basketball that should make the Card a Pac-12 contender this season.
Randle and Bright were efficient from the 3-point line, knocking down a couple of late shots to maintain Stanford’s lead. Their ability to drive to the basket helped open up lanes for forwards Powell and Huestis, as their ability to draw defenders left the big men unguarded. The Card never really felt any pressure in the second half, securing the 71-58 victory.
Powell was certainly the story in this contest, as the Pioneers simply could not find an answer for the Stanford big man. Powell’s 29 points came on a sensational shooting night —he went 10-13 from the floor, knocking down 9-11 free throws in the process. Huestis chipped in with eight points (4-7 from the field) and added a team-high 10 rebounds to make his mark on the game.
Randle distributed the ball well, totaling four assists to go along with nine points. Besides Powell’s dominant performance, Stanford enjoyed production from almost its entire team, as a variety of players chipped in with a couple of baskets.
The last two wins for Stanford have been very important to ensure there are no more slip-ups in nonconference play. The Cardinal will look to build momentum in its last game before the break for final exams, as it takes on UC-Davis on Saturday at Maples Pavilion.