It was déjà vu all over again.
In a scene that was far too familiar for Stanford fans, a last-second shot didn’t drop for Chasson Randle and the Cardinal (15-10, 6-6 Pac-12) was once again upset by USC on Thursday night, 65-64, throwing its NCAA Tournament chances at least partially out the window.
The final sequence brought back bad memories of the first meeting between the two teams back in early January. On that day, Stanford had the ball down two points with less than 20 seconds to play before missing two chances in the paint to send the game to overtime.
When the Trojans (12-13, 7-5) rolled into Maples Pavilion on Thursday night, the Cardinal was hoping for a different outcome. Desperately trying to stay in the conversation for an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament, Stanford needed a conference win over a USC opponent that has been successful in Pac-12 play.
Early on, it appeared that the game was going to be a defensive struggle. Neither team managed to score for the first two minutes, a streak that was snapped when USC’s Dewayne Dedmon made a layup, followed almost immediately by a basket from junior forward Josh Huestis. The majority of the half then became a back-and-forth struggle, as neither team was able to pull away. Each time one side looked like they were about to go on a run, the opposing side pulled it together defensively and started converting on the offensive end.
After Huestis knocked down a jumper with 11:43 remaining in the period to put Stanford up 15-11, USC interim head coach Bob Cantu called a time out.
The Trojans came out on fire, going on a 7-0 run capped by a layup from sophomore guard Byron Wesley. After Huestis scored right at the four minute mark to cut USC’s advantage to 23-21, the Trojans took control of the half. They went on a quick 12-2 run to close out the half, dominating Stanford on both ends of the floor. Junior guard J.T Terrell found his shooting touch, knocking down a pair of three pointers—one from 35 feet to beat the buzzer—to put his Trojans up 35-23 going into the break.
“Getting the lead in the first half gave us confidence,” Cantu said. “We knew at some point the other team is going to make a run, so you’ve got to withstand that.”
Stanford would not go down without a fight, as the veteran trio of Huestis, junior Dwight Powell and sophomore Chasson Randle willed the Card back into the game. With 16:22 remaining, Randle knocked down a three, followed by another jumper from beyond the arc two possessions later to bring Stanford within single digits.
Randle struck again with 11:55 to go, hitting his third three of the half to cut the Card’s deficit to 43-39. Immediately afterwards, however, he made the mistake of fouling Terrell on a three-point attempt. The guard drained each of his three free throw attempts, something Stanford struggled to do all game long as the Card went just 4-of-12 from the charity stripe.
The teams traded baskets for the next two minutes, as the Cardinal just managed to keep the game within reach. Junior guard Aaron Bright found Randle on the perimeter for yet another three-pointer and then set up Huestis for a three of his own on the next possession.
Sensing that the game was slipping through their fingers, Cantu called a timeout with 2:16 to play and a 63-57 lead. Following the break in play, Stanford recorded two necessary defensive stops but was again plagued by poor shooting from the free throw line.
Powell and Bright went a combined 2-of-4 in the pressure cooker, allowing the Trojans to maintain a four-point advantage. Bright then fouled Jio Fontan, who knocked down both of his free throws to give his team a comfortable six-point advantage. Powell then drew a foul and knocked down a clutch jumper. The junior knocked down his free throw, cutting USC’s lead to 3.
However, only 30 seconds remained, and the Card needed some help. That is exactly what they got, as Terrell turned the ball over, leading to another bucket for Powell. With 25 seconds left, and an eerily similar plotline to the January matchup, Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins called a timeout.
When play resumed, Stanford tried to force a turnover, but was unsuccessful. Powell quickly intentionally fouled Eric Wise with 18 seconds to play. The Card got exactly what it needed, as Wise missed both free throws.
Powell snatched the offensive rebound and got the ball to Bright. Once again, the Card had the ball with a chance to win.
Dribbling at the top of the key, Bright let the clock run down while Randle tried to get free on the perimeter. Forced to create on his own with USC’s defense smothering Randle, Bright drove to his left but had his desperate entry pass knocked out of bounds with 1.8 to play.
Randle took the inbounds pass in the corner and got a look at the basket from behind the arc but could not find the net.
It was certainly a difficult loss for a Stanford team that desperately needs to impress the NCAA voting committee in order to earn an at-large bid.
“In the first half, we weren’t ready to play and they were ready for a fight,” Huestis said. “This is an awakening. It will bring us down to earth after playing well the last couple games.”
The path to March Madness from here likely grows very steep, perhaps requiring the Card—which entered the night with a respectable RPI (No. 38) and decent power rating (No. 57) but a weak non-conference slate and poor record (4-8) against top-50 teams—to secure an automatic bid by winning the Pac-12 Tournament to gain entry.
But with six conference games to play and the promise showed by Stanford in the last several games, it is still a possibility.
Stanford’s next game is against UCLA at Maples Pavilion on Saturday.
Contact Michael Schwartz at email@example.com.