With March just around the corner, the Stanford Cardinal men’s basketball team desperately needed a quality win to get them back on track and in tournament contention. A decisive 24-point victory over the 10th-ranked Oregon Ducks, who were undefeated in the Pac-12 at the time, seemed to do the trick.
The Cardinal (14-8, 5-4 Pac-12), having finally earned conference-wide notoriety, needed to avoid a let down against the Oregon State Beavers (11-11, 1-8 Pac-12) at Maples Pavilion on Sunday in order to remain in contention to finish atop the Pac-12.
However, Stanford’s route to a third straight win would take on a different tone than the physical, Jonny Dawkins-style of play. The story in this contest was the Cardinal’s reliance on the 3-point shot, an area in which it has struggled throughout the season.
“It’s good to go on the road having just won a game, that’s for sure,” said Dawkins. “And for us, we’re just taking them one at a time. It’s all about getting better for us, like we talked about earlier, and we have a big test, of course Arizona’s a very good team, and we have to go there and we have to prepare for them. I didn’t get to see them play because I’ve been just watching our opponents, but I’m looking forward to watching them over the next few days as we prepare.”
Early on, the Cardinal looked like a shell of the team that blew out Utah and Oregon in back to back games. Stanford couldn’t get anything going offensively, falling behind 8-0 with 16:45 in the first half, before a 3-pointer by sophomore guard Chasson Randle ended the drought. After senior Joe Burton knocked down a pair of free throws to put the Beavers up 17-12, the Card found its rhythm. On the strength of the 3-point shot, Stanford went on a quick 14-0 run to take a 26-17 lead. Randle and junior forward John Gage hit respective threes during the run.
The Cardinal then traded baskets with the Beavers for the next few minutes, maintaining a steady lead for the majority of the half. After a free throw from Randle put Stanford up 35-27, junior guard Roberto Nelson decided to take matters into his own hands, hitting a 3-point jumper and then converting on a 3-point play. The Card watched as its eight-point lead shrunk to just a 35-33 advantage going into the halftime break.
“Coach challenged us at halftime and told us that we kind of needed to kind of handle the
pressure a little better, and I don’t think we had a turnover in the second half at all,” said Randle. “So that just
shows the kind of character, the kind of will, and the kind of determination the guys have on our
Stanford continued to thrive from beyond the arc in the second half, as seemingly every 3-point attempt went in. Still, Oregon State would not go down without a fight, bullying the Cardinal in the paint to keep things interesting. After Gage knocked down a jumper with 14:51 remaining to put Stanford up 51-45, the Beavers orchestrated an 8-0 run to recapture the lead.
Neither team managed to establish itself from that point on, as Stanford and Oregon State both failed to pull away. Down three with six minutes remaining, junior forward Josh Huestis confidently knocked down a 3-point shot to put the Card up 62-61. Oregon State returned the favor, as Eric Moreland converted on a lay up to give his Beavers the lead.
Once again, the 3-point line would prove to be the Cardinal’s strongest ally, as junior Aaron Bright hit a shot from beyond the arc to recapture the lead. It was more of the same after Oregon State went up 66-65, as junior Dwight Powell decided to make his presence felt by knocking down a pair of threes to put Stanford up five. This would prove to be the dagger, as Oregon State could not overcome this deficit. The Card would eventually win 81-73, putting the team above .500 in conference play for the first time this season.
It is not difficult to determine Stanford’s key to victory in this contest. The Card shot 15-24 from the 3-point line, easily its best shooting performance of the season. Randle led the way, knocking down four of his six 3-point attempts en route to scoring 20 points. Randle, who has been inconsistent throughout the season, has recently turned up the intensity, showing signs of the player who many pinned as an NBA prospect.
Josh Huestis, turned in another double double, scoring 16 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. He provided the spark for Stanford, which was in danger of being upset by a Beaver team that is better than its record shows. Huestis was a monster on the offensive glass, grabbing six offensive rebounds to give his team second-chance opportunities. Powell, who was held in check before knocking down two huge threes down the stretch, finished with 14 points on 5-11 shooting.
“I’m just really proud of Josh and his overall development. He’s a young man who works as hard as anybody on the team on his game, and it’s shown in the results, and that’s something that I’m really proud of,” said Dawkins. “You hate to see a guy who works that hard and it doesn’t really pan out. In Josh’s case he’s been steady, he’s been one of my most dependable players all year long, and that’s even without making shots, because he provides the presence on the defensive end with the blocked shots, the rebounding. He knows our defensive schemes well, so he’s a young man that I’m really happy to see do well and I hope he’ll continue to grow and develop.”
While Stanford’s performance did not match the dominating fashion with which they beat Utah and Oregon, the squad picked up a much-needed win to move into contention in the Pac-12.
The Cardinal’s quest to earn an NCAA Tournament bid continues on Wednesday as Stanford takes on the Pac-12 leading Arizona Wildcats.