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Huestis leads Cardinal into Sun Devil showdown

Having won five of its last six games, the Stanford men’s basketball team heads to the desert this week with a lot of momentum and even bigger plans. The Cardinal (18-8, 9-5 Pac-12) hopes to become the first team this season to gain a sweep of the Arizona schools — home or away — during the Pac-12 season. With just four games remaining on the conference schedule, a sweep would certainly cement Stanford’s place in the field of 68 come March. Even a split would go a long way towards locking up the Cardinal’s spot in the NCAA tournament.

(BOB DREBIN/stanfordphoto.com)

Senior forward Josh Huestis (above) was named the Pac-12 Player of the Week after he averaged a double-double against UCLA and USC while becoming Stanford’s all-time leading shot blocker. (BOB DREBIN/stanfordphoto.com)

Given Stanford’s recent play, Cardinal fans should be optimistic about the team’s chances to come away with at least one victory this week. The Men of Maples put together perhaps their most complete performance of the season Saturday, defeating the then-No. 23 UCLA 83-74 thanks to some lights-out shooting from the perimeter and the great all-around play of senior forward Josh Huestis.

It was the biggest week of Huestis’ career, as he was named the Pac-12 Player of the Week for his efforts against UCLA and USC, in which he averaged 16.5 points, 12.0 rebounds and 4.0 blocks per game on 50 percent shooting. In the process, he became Stanford’s all-time leading shot blocker against USC and then followed that up with a season-high five blocks against the Bruins.

“You see the best of him now because he’s scoring like he did the other night,” said head coach Johnny Dawkins of Huestis’ performance against UCLA. “He’s always been a presence for us defensively: shot blocking, rebounding. In the paint, he’s a force, and I’m fortunate to have had the opportunity to coach him.”

As dominant as Huestis was in leading his team last week, the co-captain certainly had a lot of help from his friends.

Junior guard Chasson Randle averaged 22 points per game in the wins, adding to his all-conference-caliber season. Highlights of his efforts included a 26-point outburst against the Bruins that featured a career-high seven 3-pointers and a 10-for-10 night from the free-throw line against USC.

Senior Anthony Brown followed up his 30-point explosion against Washington State by averaging 15.5 points per game against the Bruins and Trojans, while senior Dwight Powell provided the highlight material by completing the double alley-oop in the second half against UCLA. Even the bench, much maligned during the course of the season, provided a big moment on Saturday when senior Robbie Lemons, sophomore Grant Verhoeven and freshman Marcus Allen keyed a decisive 12-0 run.

In other words, everything is clicking for the Cardinal at the right time of the season.

“I think, when you look at our lineup, the guys that play the most minutes, they’ve played together a lot,” Dawkins said. “I think with that does come some chemistry and some continuity out there on the floor on both ends, and I think that’s helped us offensively and defensively.”

To maintain the recent success when facing the likes of Arizona and Arizona State, the high level of continuity displayed by the Cardinal must carry forward.

ASU (19-8, 8-6) returns home following a tough road trip last week, when the Sun Devils dropped both games to Colorado and Utah. The letdown was perhaps predictable, given that ASU entered the week coming off of an upset of archrival Arizona. Whether it was the letdown, the altitude in the Rockies or just terrific defense by the Buffs and the Utes, ASU’s offense forgot to travel with the team. The Sun Devils shot a horrific 37-for-119 during the week, or 31 percent, while turning the ball over 24 times.

However, Stanford would be foolish to assume that the Sun Devils will be the same abysmal offensive team within the friendly confines of Wells Fargo Arena. ASU is 6-1 at home during conference play, with wins over Arizona and Colorado, as opposed to just 3-5 on the road.

Instead, Stanford and its fans can expect a game much more similar to the grind-it-out battle that occurred at Maples on the first of this month, when the Cardinal came away with a hard-fought six-point victory.

Success against ASU generally comes when the opponent is able to contain the Sun Devils’ terrific backcourt of Jahii Carson and Jermaine Marshall. The duo ranks as the second-highest scoring tandem in the conference behind Oregon State’s Roberto Nelson and Devon Collier, just ahead of Stanford’s Randle and Powell. When the two get hot, as they did in the upset over Arizona, the Sun Devils are tough to contain.

Tipoff against Arizona State tonight will be at 8 p.m. and will be televised on ESPNU.

Contact Daniel E. Lupin at delupin@stanford.edu.