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M. Basketball: Stanford drops Pac-12 openers at USC, UCLA

The Stanford men’s basketball team has picked an inopportune time to go ice cold shooting the basketball, as a strong defensive effort in the second half had the Cardinal thinking upset before losing a second-straight Pac-12 game on the road at UCLA Saturday, 68-60.

Junior forward Dwight Powell had 18 points in Stanford’s first two conference games of the season as the Cardinal fell to 0-2 in Pac-12 play. (MIKE KHEIR/The Stanford Daily)

Coming on the heels of a bitter 71-69 loss at USC (6-9, 1-1 Pac-12) on Thursday night, head coach Johnny Dawkins’ team stayed in the locker room at Pauley Pavilion for 56 minutes after the loss, trying to get back on track in a hurry or risk missing out on the NCAA Tournament for the fifth consecutive season come March.

The disappointing weekend was just the fourth time head coach Johnny Dawkins’ team has lost back-to-back games since the start of last year, and had a much better start than the final record might indicate.

Led by a superb effort from Andy Brown, the senior forward had 17 points off the bench, Stanford (9-6, 0-2 Pac-12) took a commanding nine-point lead into halftime against the Trojans.

But after the break things quickly went downhill. USC cut the lead to five within two minutes, and tied things up at 51 with 11 minutes to play. Stanford shot a sold 51 percent in the first half, but just 26 percent in the second period (8-30).

Down by two with seconds to play, sophomore guard Chasson Randle couldn’t convert a driving layup and junior forward Dwight Powell’s dunk attempt slammed off the rim and out as the Trojans celebrated.

“We knew USC would come out in the second half,” Dawkins said after the game. “I talked about that during halftime, though we did a great job of regrouping and building a lead back up. However, they cut the lead and kept fighting and made plays at the end. It was a great conference game. They made some crucial plays at the end and we didn’t make the plays we need to make.”

Against the Bruins the script was somewhat reversed, with UCLA going on a small run to close the half with a 30-22 lead. It was all Wear twins, all the time, as junior twins David and Travis scored UCLA’s first 15 points.

The cold shooting continued for Stanford, however, with the Card hitting just 7-26 shots (27 percent), several of which were from close range.

”We held UCLA way under their scoring average,” Dawkins said, “but we have to do a lot better at making shots. We missed too many point-blank shots. Some of our guys are still getting comfortable in new roles along with freshmen coming in.”

The Bruins kept building their margin, taking a 15-point lead with 6:33 to play. But the Cardinal showed some resolve in the final minutes as UCLA got sloppy and committed eight turnovers

Stanford scored nine of the next 11 points to close to 57-49. Junior forward John Gage scored five of his 10 points in a row during the spurt.

Larry Drew II, who had seven assists, made a layup that restored UCLA’s lead to 10 points, but Randle hit a layup and 3-pointer to get Stanford to 59-54 with 47 seconds left.

It wasn’t until the Bruins went 9-10 from the line in the final minute that the game was decided. Shabazz Muhammed scored 17 of his 23 points in the second half for UCLA, winners of seven straight.

Dawkins continues to search for consistency out of his starting unit, as Gage and Brown both started and became the 11th and 12th players to start for Stanford this season.

And after the game, the team spent close to an hour in a closed-door meeting before heading back to the Farm.

”I don’t think we should forget about this game but we have to move on,” Dawkins said after the USC loss. “There are some lessons we can learn from this game. I will take the lessons we learn and that will help us improve. This is a long race and it’s only one game.”

The race continues this week with Pac-12 clashes at home against Washington State on Wednesday and Washington on Saturday.

About Miles Bennett-Smith

Miles Bennett-Smith is Chief Operating Officer at The Daily. An avid sports fan from Penryn, Calif., Miles graduated in 2013 with a Bachelor's degree in American Studies. He has previously served as the Editor in Chief and President at The Daily. He has also worked as a reporter for The Sacramento Bee. Email him at eic@stanforddaily.com