It didn’t play its best game, but the Stanford men’s basketball team did just enough on Senior Day to escape the Utah Utes on Saturday, and in the process, put its quest to the NCAA Tournament back on track. A Dwight Powell free throw with 36 seconds left gave Stanford (19-11, 10-8 Pac-12) a 61-60 lead, and a strong defensive possession that saw Chasson Randle force a turnover with less than two seconds remaining sealed the Cardinal victory. The victory snapped a three-game losing streak and clinched Stanford’s second winning conference season in the last three years.
“I knew that [Utah guard Brandon] Taylor wanted the ball back, so I just wanted to deny him the ball, and then they brought a little cluster over there into the corner,” Randle said. “I just tried to get a hand on the ball and got lucky on D.”
The Men of Maples certainly did not make it easy on themselves. Despite holding an 11-point lead with 7:51 remaining in the game, Stanford allowed the Utes (20-10, 9-9) right back into the game, making things far more difficult than they could have been. A Powell turnover sandwiched by two Utah 3-pointers saw the lead cut to five within the span of 1:04, and a parade of missed free throws by the Cardinal invited the road team back into the game. Powell’s make snapped a streak of seven consecutive misses from the charity stripe by Stanford, a three-and-a-half minute stretch during the closing minutes of the game.
“We knew that it was going to come down to the wire, and I thought what prevailed for us, I thought defensively, we got the stops that we needed, and I think it offset some of the free throws we missed,” said head coach Johnny Dawkins. “Our guys didn’t hang their heads, they hung their hats on guarding, and I think we got the win because of that.”
Despite the mostly strong defensive performance, the Cardinal’s recent offensive struggles continued. It marked the fourth consecutive game in which Stanford failed to score at least 70 points and finished with more turnovers (15) than assists (10).
Yet seemingly as always, Randle was there to bail the Cardinal out. The junior finished with 22 points on 7-of-10 shooting, including 3-of-5 from beyond the arc, and finished with team highs of three assists and three steals.
Playing in his final home game with the class he entered Stanford with, redshirt junior Stefan Nastic contributed one of his best offensive performances of the season, scoring 14 points on a perfect 6-of-6 afternoon from the floor.
Stanford controlled play from the opening tip, racing out to a 16-4 lead behind the strong play by Randle, Powell and Nastic. Utah slowly chipped away, cutting the lead to eight by halftime and to five with 12:22 left to play. Stanford responded with an 8-2 run of its own to extend the lead back out to 11, before the string of missed free throws slowly allowed the Utes back into the game.
After disappointing results down the stretch in the game against Colorado on Wednesday, Dawkins was pleased that his players were able to pull this game out.
“I told our guys yesterday, we stood at center court with the seniors, I said, ‘You know what, the game’s about finding a way,’” said Dawkins. “It’s about finding a way just to win. So whatever that takes.”
“The things I’ve always appreciated the most as a player, as a coach, as a human being, I had to fight and struggle to make something work and make something happen,” he added. “I appreciate that more. And so we had that talk about that, and so it’s only fitting.”
The win meant that Stanford’s senior class of Powell, Josh Huestis, Aaron Bright, John Gage and Robbie Lemons finished its career at Maples Pavilion with a 52-17 record, including a 22-14 mark in conference play. Fifth-year senior Andy Brown’s totals will stand at 62-23 and 27-18, respectively, though the oft-injured forward was only able to suit up for parts of two seasons.
After finishing its career at home, the senior class hopes that its last go-around will bear the fruit of an NCAA Tournament appearance. The Cardinal has more work to do as the team heads to Las Vegas for the conference tournament this week.
Stanford should enter the tournament with wind in its sails, as four players were honored by the conference on Monday due to their outstanding play this season. Randle and Powell were each named to the All-Pac-12 first team, making Stanford just one of three schools in the conference to place two players on the list. Junior guard Anthony Brown was named the conference’s Most Improved Player, marking the second season in a row that a Stanford player was given the award, following Powell’s honor last season. Additionally, Huestis, the school’s all-time blocks leader, was named to the All-Defense team for the second season in a row.
The Cardinal will open play as the sixth seed and face Washington State in the first round. Tipoff is at 8:30 on Wednesday.
Contact Daniel E. Lupin at delupin ‘at’ stanford.edu.