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Cardinal visits lowly Washington State, can’t afford another loss

On Wednesday night, victory slipped through the fingers of the Stanford men’s basketball team. A disastrous second half resulted in a 4-point loss to a Washington team that the Cardinal (15-8, 6-5 Pac-12) had already beaten by 12 earlier this season, precisely the type of loss this team cannot afford if it hopes to make a run to the NCAA Tournament.

Stanford has struggled with its bench production all year, but it has often turned to senior John Gage (above) off the bench to make up for the team's lack of depth. (ZETONG LI/The Stanford Daily)

Stanford has struggled with its bench production all year, but it has often turned to senior John Gage (above) off the bench to make up for the team’s lack of depth. (ZETONG LI/The Stanford Daily)

The Cardinal will have to do a better job of avoiding that kind of performance Saturday in Pullman, Wash., when it takes on the Washington State Cougars (9-15, 2-10) in a game that it absolutely, unequivocally must win. Despite having given Cal everything it wanted and more in Wednesday’s overtime loss, the Cougars are clearly one of the two worst teams in the Pac-12, the type of team that Big Dance participants are supposed to beat handily, even on the road. If Stanford aspires to be among that group of teams come March, it must do as such on Saturday.

Washington State’s season-long struggles notwithstanding, the complexion of playing the Cougars has certainly changed since last time the Cardinal saw them. WSU’s leading scorer, junior guard DaVonte Lacy, has returned from an injury that sidelined him for seven of the team’s first eight conference games. And indeed, he has returned with a vengeance.

Lacy already has two 30-point games to his credit since his return two weeks ago, and his 39-point outburst against Cal was particularly vicious. Lacy made eight three-pointers on 15 attempts and was a perfect 11-of-11 from the foul line, singlehandedly carrying his team to the brink of victory.

NBA legend Bill Russell, wisest of the basketball wise, once remarked, “This game has always been, and will always be, about buckets.” Lacy clearly ascribes to that philosophy, and the Cardinal coaching staff would be sage to place particular emphasis on stopping him.

Yet even with Lacy’s heroics, it is clear that Washington State does not have enough else on its roster to defeat good teams. The Cougars have lost four of the five games this season in which Lacy has scored more than 25 points, and the sole victory came over lowly Cal State Bakersfield in WSU’s season opener.

As such, Stanford must do a good job of making sure that Washington State’s other offensive players don’t have uncharacteristically good nights. Foremost amongst them is freshman Que Johnson, who at 10.3 points per game is the Cougars’ second-leading scorer and the only other truly dynamic scoring threat that Washington State possesses. Johnson matched his career high with 21 points against Stanford on Jan. 15, and the Cardinal would be sorry to let him score as much this time around.

In the larger scheme of things, it is crucial that Stanford finds some sort of consistent offensive production from its bench. Against Washington on Wednesday, the bench was held to just two points on 1-of-5 shooting, both coming via senior forward John Gage.

Stanford’s depth has been ravaged by injury this season, and the hole it has left was extremely apparent on Wednesday night. When the starters have an off-shooting night like they did against the Huskies, the instances in which Stanford’s bench has stepped up to fill the void the season have been few and far in between. Barring the return of sophomore Rosco Allen, who has been sidelined all season with a stress fracture in his foot, it will be up to the current group of Gage, senior Robbie Lemons, sophomore Grant Verhoeven and freshman Marcus Allen to find some way to provide a little extra punch.

Stanford will seek to reestablish the positive momentum it had gained before Wednesday’s loss at 4 p.m. on Saturday, when it will again attempt to register its first victory in the state of Washington since 2011. The game will be televised on Pac-12 Networks.

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