Despite its worst shooting night of the season, a terrible end to the first half, long droughts on the offensive end and a plethora of missed free throws down the stretch, the Stanford men’s basketball team was finally able to accomplish something on Wednesday night that it had never done under head coach Johnny Dawkins: beat a marquee nonconference opponent on the road.
The Cardinal (8-2) prevailed 53-51 over the tenth-ranked and previously unbeaten Connecticut Huskies (9-1), giving Stanford its first win over a ranked opponent away from Maples Pavilion since a March 5, 2009, upset over current NBA star James Harden and No. 21 Arizona State.
The win, by all accounts, was a stunner. Not only had Stanford struggled on the road in recent memory, but it was also Connecticut’s first home loss against a nonconference opponent since Jan. 20, 2007, snapping a 54-game home winning streak against nonconference foes.
History would have been enough to make the end result of this game surprising. But the way in which the Cardinal overcame the Huskies was altogether astonishing.
Close throughout most of the first half, Connecticut led Stanford 30-28 with 3:08 remaining after Stanford junior guard Chasson Randle nailed a three-pointer. The Huskies then embarked on what appeared at the time to be a backbreaking 8-0 run to close the half, including two fast-break layups over the final 31 seconds to give Connecticut a 10-point lead going to into halftime.
Connecticut would extend its lead to 13 with 16:50 remaining in the game on a layup by Niels Giffey before Stanford would finally dig its heels in defensively.
All season long, Coach Dawkins has preached overcoming adversity to his team. Down 13 on the road to a ranked opponent in the second half, it seemed as though the Cardinal was on its way to another ho-hum disappointment that has at times been characteristic of the Dawkins era. But the Cardinal, aided in part by poor offensive play from UConn, finally made its stand.
“To win the game, and the way we won it, defensively, speaks a lot about our kids,” Dawkins said.
After getting three-pointers on consecutive possessions by senior Anthony Brown and Randle to cut the deficit to 43-36, the Stanford 2-3 zone defense would allow just four more field goals over the final 16:50 of the game. Stanford held the Huskies to an incredibly low 16.1 percent (5-31) from the field in the second half, a performance that allowed the Cardinal to overcome its own poor shooting.
“It was one of the best efforts I’ve ever seen for a half,” Dawkins said. “I’m just really proud of their effort.”
Stanford slowly chipped away at Connecticut’s advantage before taking the lead with 10:54 to play on an and-one layup by Randle, rousing the Cardinal bench to its feet. The two teams would trade baskets and one-point leads over the next four minutes until Stanford finally took the lead for good with just over three and half minutes remaining on a jumper by Randle, who was the Cardinal’s only consistent source of offense on the night.
Despite two missed free throws on Stanford’s final two possessions by senior Josh Huestis, who otherwise played a stellar game, the Cardinal was able to hold on to its two-point lead during Connecticut’s final possession. Shabazz Napier and Omar Calhoun missed contested jump shots in the game’s waning moments, sealing the victory for exuberant Stanford.
While Randle’s 22 points certainly provided the offensive heroics for Stanford, seniors Huestis and Dwight Powell were instrumental in the Cardinal victory. Huestis finished with 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting in addition to 10 rebounds, while Powell survived one of the worst shooting nights of his career to stuff the stat sheet with 10 points, 15 rebounds, five assists, four blocks and two steals. The rebounding and ‘dirty work’ done by Stanford’s two co-captains, who played a combined 78 minutes, showed the national television audience why the Cardinal’s frontcourt is one of the best in the country.
“This was huge for us,” said Huestis. “We knew inside our locker room we could compete with anybody, but not until you prove it.”
Stanford has a chance to prove itself once more when it heads to Brooklyn, N.Y., on Saturday to face last year’s NCAA runner-up, Michigan. Tip-off is at 5:30 p.m.
Contact Daniel Lupin at delupin ‘at’ Stanford.edu.