Flying high after throttling Utah on Sunday evening, the men’s basketball team faces its most important game of the season to date tonight as the Card welcomes No. 10 Oregon to Maples Pavilion.
Road losses to USC and UCLA, coupled with a home loss to Washington put Stanford (12-8, 3-4 Pac-12) in a sizeable hole to start Pac-12 play. An up-and-down preseason also has failed to build the Cardinal’s NCAA Tournament resume, which likely means that in order for Stanford to put on its dancing shoes in March, it must either go on a remarkable run in conference play or win the Pac-12 Tournament.
The Ducks (18-2, 7-0), currently leading the conference, present a great opportunity for the Cardinal to kick off just such a run with a marquee win on a (somewhat) national stage.
Recent history is not in Stanford’s favor. You have to go back to January of 2011 to find Stanford’s last win over a ranked opponent, an upset of then-No. 17 Washington, and the Card has lost four games in a row against top-25 teams. The last time Stanford beat a top-10 team was 2008, and the last home upset of a top-10 team came in 2007.
But as mighty as the Ducks are on paper, riding a nine-game winning streak and undefeated in league play, they are plenty of reasons for Stanford to be hopeful that tonight is the night to spring an upset.
The Ducks have been living dangerously for most of the season on the offensive end, averaging a conference-worst 15.7 turnovers per contest. Their last six wins have come by an average of only 5.0 points, and while they shot 57.8 percent from the field, they committed a season-high 23 turnovers in an 81-76 win over Washington on Saturday.
Oregon head coach Dana Altman acknowledges that his team is far from perfect. “The turnovers really took away from the performance,” Altman said of his team’s effort against the Huskies. “We made a lot of bad decisions, things that we’re going to have to work on.”
In contrast, Stanford finally put together all the pieces for 40 minutes in its last performance, a 31-point rout of the Utes on the road over the weekend. Junior forward John Gage continued his white-hot shooting, hitting all four of his three-point attempts to make it eight-straight over two games, on his way to a career-high 19 points
The rest of the team was not far behind, as Stanford shot 50 percent from the field with 17 assists. Sophomore guard Chasson Randle kept up his scoring spree, chipping in 17 points as he continues to climb back from his early-season shooting struggles — over his last six games Randle is averaging 16 points.
And that leaves out the strong play of junior forward Dwight Powell. An All-Pac-10 All-Freshman selection in 2011, Powell is finally fully healthy and has been able to showcase the dynamic and athletic all-around game that made him a blue-chip recruit coming out of high school. In addition to averaging 14.5 points and 7.7 rebounds, Powell is shooting 47.7 percent overall and 80.4 percent from the foul line.
The problem against the Ducks will likely come on the defensive end, however, as E.J Singler, younger brother of former Duke star and current Detroit Pistons player Kyle Singler, is scoring buckets in bunches as one of five players averaging in double digits.
Oregon also is committed to pounding the glass on both ends, as Arsalan Kazemi has pulled down 11 rebounds in each of his last three games and is averaging 9.6 boards per game.
Part of what made Stanford so successful against Utah was its 43-27 rebounding advantage, a big improvement over the team’s previous league contests. The Card had a minus-1.4 rebound differential in conference play before Sunday — Oregon leads the Pac-12 in that category at plus-8.9 boards per game.
“I thought our guys did a good job for the most part of putting bodies on guys and making plays on the basketball,” said Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins. “That’s something we’ve got to continue to do.”
In order to return to its winning ways against the Ducks after getting swept in both meetings last year, Stanford certainly will need to keep the rebound total close, and possibly exploit the Ducks’ guard situation — starting point guard Dominic Artis is expected to miss the game with a left foot injury.
Tip-off from Maples Pavilion, where the Card is 60-20 during Dawkins’ tenure, is scheduled for 8 p.m. with national television coverage on ESPNU.