Now in the heat of conference play, the Stanford men’s basketball team faces its toughest test thus far as it prepares to take on No. 18 Washington (12-3, 4-0 Pac-10) tonight at Maples Pavilion. The matchup marks the Cardinal’s first meeting with a top-25 opponent in the 2010-11 season.
Stanford (9-5, 2-1) headed home from last week’s road trip with a split, defeating Arizona State, 55-41, but falling to Arizona in a 67-57 decision that is the Card’s only loss in Pac-10 play.
The Huskies, on the other hand, remain undefeated atop the conference due to sweeps of the Oregon and southern California schools, as well as a season-best six-game winning streak. Washington’s only three losses were delivered by Kentucky, Michigan State and Texas A&M, all of whom are ranked in the top 25.
Stanford views tonight’s matchup as an opportunity to go toe-to-toe with one of the nation’s elite.
“They are a high scoring team, and they’re great on the backboard, so we have to be able to rebound with them,” said head coach Johnny Dawkins. “They’re a terrific team, a terrific program, and we have to play really well to have a chance to compete.”
If the Card can demonstrate the right combination of the strongest aspects of its game, it can certainly do just that. Defensive dominance, for one, has been a huge factor in Stanford’s success so far and will be key against Washington, which boasts one of the most prolific offenses in the nation. The Huskies have maintained a scoring margin of plus-20.8, and they average 88.9 points per game with a 49.1 overall shooting percentage.
Washington’s offensive squad is led by junior Isaiah Thomas (16.0 points per game, 36.4-percent shooting), senior Matthew Bryan-Amaning (15.3 ppg, 7.5 rebounds per game, 57.5-percent shooting) and senior Justin Holiday (11.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 52.4-percent shooting, 42.0-percent three-point shooting, 26 steals).
This trio poses the most significant threat for Stanford’s solid defensive game, which is currently allowing only 60.0 points per game, which leads the Pac-10 and represents a major improvement from recent seasons. In fact, the 2010-11 Card has already kept five opponents under 50 points, which had only been achieved once during the first two seasons under Dawkins.
“We have defended fairly well, and I’m really excited about that,” Dawkins said. “We have a new group, and to see them come together defensively is always exciting.”
While Dawkins recognizes that defense is the team’s strength, he also emphasizes the importance of junior guard Jeremy Green and his teammates putting up big numbers. Green is particularly stellar on the offensive end in Maples Pavilion, as he approaches the 1,000-point mark for his career and remains Stanford’s primary offensive weapon with 15.9 points per game.
Redshirt junior center Josh Owens has boosted the Cardinal frontcourt, averaging 12.0 points and leading the team in rebounding at 6.4 per game. After sitting out last year’s season because of an undisclosed medical condition, Owens will be relied upon to step up the team’s offensive efforts against the Huskies.
“Scoring and rebounding are two areas we have to focus in on and manage,” Dawkins said. “We have to value the basketball, which will help our offense in itself. We always try to make it difficult for the opposing team to score, and that isn’t going to change against Washington.
“We have to go out there and play with the same energy that we’ve been playing with all season,” he added.
Some of this energy should derive from home-court advantage. The Card is 47-11 in its last 58 home games, dating back to the 2007-08 campaign. Snagging the 48th win today will be a challenge, but by matching the Huskies’ offense with a strong game on the boards and in the backcourt, Stanford could pull off the upset.
Tipoff is set for tonight at 7 p.m. in Maples Pavilion.