Trailing 62-60 to the favored Washington Huskies (11-5, 3-0 Pac-12) with just over a minute remaining, the Stanford Cardinal (10-7, 1-3) turned to its hottest hand, junior forward Dwight Powell. Powell made a move to the basket, and despite having a potential lane to the hoop, pulled up for a short jumper.
Every Stanford fan in the building was left holding their breath as the ball headed to the basket. But victory was not in the cards on Saturday night, as Powell’s attempt rattled out and the Cardinal fell to Washington, 65-60.
After picking up its first Pac-12 win over Washington State on Wednesday, the Cardinal was looking to move back to .500 in conference play. Instead, they are sitting at 1-3, finding themselves near the bottom of the Pac-12.
Head coach Johnny Dawkins was disappointed by his team’s effort down the stretch. “I thought we had some opportunities and we didn’t complete the plays,” he said. “You know, we didn’t finish plays down the stretch.”
It has been an all-too-familiar story for the Cardinal in this early season, a common issue for a group of players that are still attempting to define their roles.
The first half was a back-and-forth battle, as neither team was able to pull away. In fact, the largest lead for either team came with 4:37 seconds left in the half after sophomore guard Chasson Randle knocked a jumper. The Huskies quickly recaptured the lead, as a quick jumper and three-pointer by guard C.J. Wilcox put Washington up 29-28.
Randle and Wilcox decided to take matters into their own hands as the half drew to a close. Down by two with just under two minutes remaining, Randle drove to the basket and converted the layup. With an “anything you can do, I can do better” mentality, Wilcox squared up and knocked down a jumper to put his Huskies back on top. Randle countered with a three-point bucket of his own before Wilcox hit yet another jumper. Finally, Randle put an exclamation on what was an exceptional half for him, hitting another shot in the paint to put Stanford up 36-35 heading into the break.
The second half was a similar story, as both teams appeared evenly matched. Back-to-back scores by Wilcox and Desmond Simmons put Washington up 52-44, giving them their largest lead of the game. Stanford would roar back, as a pair of free throws by Dwight Powell and freshman Rosco Allen, as well as a layup for Powell put the Card down two. The teams traded baskets for the next couple of minutes, as Stanford simply could not get over the hump to tie the game. That changed when Randle knocked down a jumper with 3:38 remaining to tie the game at 58 apiece.
The Huskies’ 7-foot center Aziz N’Diaye then hit a pair of clutch free throws to recapture the lead. Wilcox, following suit, got fouled and effortlessly knocked down both of his free throws. Powell, however, countered for the Cardinal, hitting a shot in the paint to pull within two with 1:21 to play.
But Stanford failed to execute down the stretch, as Powell and junior guard Aaron Bright missed a couple of shots before time expired. It was a heartbreaking loss for the Cardinal, who will have to regroup this week.
Randle, who finished the game with 16 points on 7-11 shooting, was disappointed with his team’s aggressiveness. “They were closing out a little bit more, but that just opened out other things that we could have done, like attacking the basket,” he said following the game.
Despite failing to convert late, Powell turned in yet another strong performance for the Cardinal, recording 19 points on 50 percent shooting from the field. He added five rebounds, second on the team only to junior Josh Huestis who grabbed eight boards.
The issue for Stanford was stopping Washington’s phenom C.J. Wilcox. The guard had himself a day, dropping a game-high 27 points on 10-16 shooting. The Card simply had no answer for him. Powell had a few words of praise for Wilcox following his performance.
“Wilcox is a good shooter. He knows the game well. He cuts hard,” Powell said.
And so it is back to the drawing board for Stanford, which must regroup in hurry as Saturday they take on rival Cal at Maples Pavilion and can little afford more Pac-12 losses.