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Big Dance hopes hang by a thread as Card travels to Oregon State, Oregon

MICHAEL KHEIR/STANFORD DAILY

Sophomore point guard Aaron Bright has seen a bit of a scoring slump, but his 3.2 assists per game lead the Card. MICHAEL KHEIR/STANFORD DAILY

 

 

After dropping a pair of close home games to UCLA and USC, the Stanford Cardinal men’s basketball team desperately needs to finish conference play on a high note. With March Madness just around the corner and the possibility of earning an at-large bid appearing increasingly unrealistic, Stanford must focus on picking up a couple of conference wins on the road this week in order to improve its seed for the Pac-12 tournament.

Despite having a losing record in the conference, the Card has proven that it can beat any team in the Pac-12 by topping Arizona State and Oregon — two teams that are likely tournament bound.

Stanford’s quest to climb up the Pac-12 standings begins this Thursday night, when the Cardinal (15-11, 6-7 Pac-12) travels to Corvallis, Ore., to take on the Oregon State Beavers (13-13, 3-10). Stanford, despite dropping to eighth in a very competitive Pac-12, is only two games back of fourth place with five games remaining on the schedule. The Card could very well jump into the top five if it manages to win out.

The Beavers, despite their subpar conference record, have been dangerous this season. When these two teams first squared off at Maples Pavilion, the Card managed to pull out a close 81-73 win. OSU will look to reverse that outcome on their home court  — a distinct possibility if Stanford does not play solid basketball.

Unfortunately for the Card, OSU has done many things effectively on its two-game skid, moving the ball incredibly well, creating open shots and forcing turnovers on the defensive end. However, the Beavers have been plagued by poor shooting, going a combined 57-for-139 (41 percent) from the field and a lowly 19-for-33 (57 percent) from the free throw line. If the Card can start knocking down open shots, it should be able to close out the season with a few big wins.

The Beavers will likely turn to Roberto Nelson, the junior guard who has terrorized opponents throughout the season, to generate much of their offense. Nelson has been both effective spotting up and off the dribble drive, using his athleticism to generate many of his own shots. He is leading the team with 17.2 points per game on 45.4 percent shooting from the field. He has shown a knack for knocking down open threes, posting a tremendous 43.1 percent mark from beyond the arc. However, his assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.6 to 2.3 is somewhat troubling for a guard who is often in control of the offense.

The Cardinal will likely look to sophomore guard Chasson Randle and junior point guard Aaron Bright to stop Nelson, using heavy pressure to force him into poor decision making.

Oregon State also boasts a pair of 6-foot-10 big men in sophomore forward Eric Moreland and center Angus Brandt. The combo has wreaked havoc in the paint, using their size and strength to grab offensive rebounds and create second-chance opportunities for the Beavers. Moreland is leading the team with 10.5 rebounds per game, and Brandt is not far behind with 8.5 of his own. Despite Brandt averaging more points per game (11.3 to Moreland’s 9.3), Moreland has been the more effective scorer, leading the team with a 58.2 shooting percentage from the floor.

Stanford juniors Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis will have to continue to crash the boards in order to minimize Oregon State’s shot attempts.

The Cardinal has shown glimpses of the team that many predicted would make the tournament at the start of the season. If it wishes to fulfill this prophecy, it will need to win the Pac-12 tournament, as it essentially destroyed the possibility of earning an at-large bid after dropping two home games this weekend. Still, a solid performance to close out the regular season should significantly improve Stanford’s odds of winning the Pac-12 tournament.

The Cardinal’s hopes will either be squandered or come to fruition tonight at 8 p.m against Oregon State.