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Stanford hosts Colorado in penultimate regular-season duel

Despite a sweep at the hands of the Arizona schools last week, the Stanford men’s basketball team still is within reach of its ultimate goal for the season: making the NCAA tournament. With the Cardinal (18-10, 9-7 Pac-12) currently projected to be somewhere between an 8 seed and a 10 seed by the likes of ESPN, CBS, teamrankings.com and USA Today, it is crucial that Stanford does not give the tournament committee a reason to bump it out of the field of 68. Holding serve this week at home in the final games of the regular season against Colorado (20-9, 9-7) and Utah (19-9, 8-8) would pretty much guarantee the Cardinal a spot in the Big Dance.

Josh Huestis (MIKE KHEIR/The Stanford Daily)

Senior Josh Huestis is averaging 16 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game over his last four games. He’ll look to continue his hot streak tonight against Colorado. (MIKE KHEIR/The Stanford Daily)

If the Cardinal is going to have success tonight against the Buffaloes, it needs to turn itself around quickly. Stanford dropped consecutive games last week for the first time since the first week of January, when the Cardinal reached its low point of the season following a home loss to Cal and a road loss to Oregon State. It was not just that Stanford lost its two games last week, but it was the way in which it lost them.

Stanford was hardly competitive against both Arizona and Arizona State, dooming itself with turnover-plagued starts in each game. As a result, the Cardinal fell behind early against two good teams and never found its way back into the games — a rarity for Stanford this season. The 12-point loss to ASU and the 13-point loss to Arizona were Stanford’s worst margins of defeat since a 17-point loss to UCLA back on Jan. 23. The Cardinal was a far cry from the competitive outlet that came within three points of sweeping the Arizona schools at Maples Pavilion a month ago.

Despite the poor team play, seniors Josh Huestis and Anthony Brown continued their recently strong form this past week with solid outings. Huestis averaged 16.5 points and 10.0 rebounds during the road swing, including a 22-point, 12-rebound outburst against the Wildcats. The Great Falls, Mont., native is averaging 16 points, 11 rebounds and 3 blocks per game over his last four games, and it is safe to say that he is playing the best basketball of his Stanford career at the right time.

Meanwhile, Brown continues to prove that he is one of the best shooters in the conference, if not the nation, with a road trip that saw him average 17.5 points on 68.8 percent shooting, including 55.6 percent from 3-point range. Brown is now shooting better than 50 percent for the season and ranks 15th in the country in 3-point field goal percentage at 48.5 percent.

A lack of good ball movement on offense was what held Stanford back last week, as the Cardinal managed just a combined 12 assists over the two games, in comparison to 25 turnovers.

If there’s good news for Stanford, it’s that the Cardinal has returned home, a place where the team has recorded an 11-3 record, as opposed to a 6-5 record on the road.

Against the Buffaloes, Stanford will have to do a good job on the glass if it wants to come away with the victory. Colorado ranks as the second-best rebounding team in the conference behind only Arizona, with a plus-6.4 per game margin.

First and foremost, that means boxing out sophomore forward Josh Scott, who has emerged as the team’s best player following the season-ending injury to junior guard and All-Pac-12 performer Spencer Dinwiddie. Scott is averaging 14.6 points and 8.7 rebounds per game this season, which means that Stanford’s big-man trio of Huestis and fellow seniors Dwight Powell and Stefan Nastic should have their hands full all night long.

Colorado’s other standout to keep an eye on is junior guard Askia Booker, who is averaging 14 points, 3.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game this season. As good as those numbers are, Booker has only gotten better in conference play — averaging 15.2 points, 4.8 assists and 1.7 steals during the Pac-12 season.

With players such as Scott and Booker, Colorado is certainly a dangerous team that also happens to be fighting for its postseason life. That said, the Buffaloes are just 6-7 in Dinwiddie’s absence, including a 1-4 mark on the road. Make no bones about it — this is a game that Stanford must have if it is to avoid an NIT fate for the third consecutive season.

Tipoff tonight is set for 6 p.m., and the game will be televised nationally on ESPN2.

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