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Stanford routs UC-Davis, tough East Coast trip looms

The Stanford men’s basketball team showed few signs of rust following its two-week finals break, defeating the UC-Davis Aggies (3-8) 83-56 in a rout from start to finish. Stanford jumped out to a 22-5 lead and never looked back, overwhelming the Aggies with its shooting and scoring balance. The Cardinal featured an offensive attack that saw four starters score in double figures, led by junior Chasson Randle’s 16 points.

Stanford (7-2) shot a blistering 58.5 percent from the field, including 55 percent from three-point range, en route to one of its most impressive offensive performances of the season. The Cardinal tallied a season-best 22 assists, including six from senior forward Dwight Powell, despite playing just its second game without injured senior guard Aaron Bright, the team leader in assists for each of the past two seasons.

The hot shooting of Stanford’s backcourt has been a storyline for the Cardinal to start the season, and Saturday night’s performance against the Aggies was another feather in the respective hats of Randle and fellow backcourt mate Anthony Brown.

Randle scored his 16 points on five three-pointers and a free throw, finishing 5-of-6 from three to up his percentage from behind the arc to 41 percent for the season.

Senior Anthony Brown (21) again provided an efficient performance for the Cardinal, scoring 15 points on 5-for-7 shooting. (isiphotos.com)

Senior Anthony Brown (21) again provided an efficient performance for the Cardinal, scoring 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting from the floor. (isiphotos.com)

Brown, a senior who has arguably been Stanford’s best player in his return from last season’s hip injury, scored 15 points on 5-of-7 shooting, including 2-of-3 from three point range. He is now shooting 58.3 percent from the field and 60 percent on 21-of-35 shooting from three-point range for the season, which currently ranks him sixth amongst all players in Division I.

Seniors Powell and Josh Huestis were also stellar for the Cardinal against the Aggies, as both continued to produce the all-around performances that will be crucial for Stanford moving forward. Powell tallied 15 points, 10 rebounds, six assists and two steals, while Huestis added 15 points, five rebounds, four assists and four blocks.

“We have different guys in different attack positions spread around the floor,” Powell said. “The more we can take advantage of guys’ strengths, the more in tune we can be as an offense. It makes everything a lot easier when guys are doing what they do best in comfortable situations.”

As impressive as Stanford’s offense was, the real focus for the Cardinal moving forward has to be its defense, which has struggled against the few quality opponents it has faced thus far this season.

Saturday night was a step in the right direction, as Stanford held UC-Davis to just 34.5 percent shooting, its best defensive effort of the season, while also forcing 14 turnovers.

“We have been spending a lot more time on our defense,” said head coach Johnny Dawkins. “We made an effort to clear up some things defensively that we thought were hurting us. Our guys bought into that. They understand the importance of defending and what that does for you to have a chance to win.”

It remains to be seen whether or not the Cardinal will be able to maintain the same level of defensive intensity and execution against higher-caliber teams, which the Cardinal will certainly encounter later this week. Stanford will hit the road for games at No. 10 UConn on Wednesday and against last season’s national runner-up, Michigan, in Brooklyn, New York, on Saturday. Stanford’s performance against these two opponents, arguably its two toughest of the non-conference season, could determine the trajectory for the rest of its season.

To have success against UConn and Michigan, the Cardinal’s defense must improve. In its two losses to BYU and Pitt this season, Stanford is allowing 100 points per game on 52.1 percent shooting, while forcing just eight turnovers a game. Better defensive rotation and increased ball pressure should be the solution for Stanford, which has displayed an ability to impose its will against lesser foes, like it did against UC-Davis on Saturday.

“Defense is something we hang our hats on,” Powell said. “We are always trying to get stronger and impose our will on that end of the court.”

Come Wednesday, Stanford’s new-look defense will certainly be tested. Tune in to ESPN2 at 6 p.m. to find out if the Cardinal is up to the challenge.

Contact Daniel E. Lupin at delupin ‘at’ stanford.edu.