Head coach Johnny Dawkins and the Stanford men’s basketball team lived to see another day on Wednesday night, as the Card defeated the Washington State Cougars 74-63 in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament. With the win, the Cardinal (20-11, 10-8 Pac-12) advanced to the quarterfinals of the conference tournament, where they will face the Arizona State Sun Devils on Thursday night. The win not only moved Stanford closer to a Pac-12 tournament title, but also was crucial in ensuring that the Cardinal avoided the type of disastrous loss that would swing the NCAA Tournament committee in favor of keeping Stanford out of the Big Dance.
Junior guard Chasson Randle had yet another solid outing in leading the Cardinal to victory, posting 22 points on 6-of-11 shooting. He scored 14 of those points in the first half, including a 3-pointer before the halftime buzzer that pushed the Stanford lead to seven, 35-28, entering intermission.
Senior forward Dwight Powell had his best game in weeks for Stanford after having been bitten by the turnover bug as of late. Powell finished with 16 points on 6-of-10 shooting, including going 2-of-2 from 3-point range, while committing just one turnover.
In the losing effort for the Cougars (10-21, 3-15), junior guard DaVonte Lacy was again terrific in his team’s final game of the season. Lacy tallied 25 points on 8-of-18 shooting, proving once more that he is one of the Pac-12’s premier scoring threats. His eight-point burst during the first 4:28 of the second half helped draw the Cougars within one, and the 15 total points he scored in the final frame kept the game in doubt until the closing minutes of the contest.
Senior forward D.J. Shelton added 15 points, 11 rebounds and two rim-rattling putback dunks that helped energize the Cougars just when it seemed as if the Cardinal were on the verge of pulling away.
Despite a first half that saw Stanford register seven turnovers versus just two assists, the Cardinal were able to enter halftime with a comfortable lead thanks to the aforementioned strong individual offensive performance by Randle and a 2-for-9 cold stretch by the Cougars over the final 6:32 of the period, which saw Stanford’s lead increase from one to seven.
Yet the troubling trend of slow second-half starts that plagued the Cardinal against Colorado and Utah last week was again an issue on Wednesday night, as the Lacy-led Cougars were able to draw within one by the 15:32 mark. WSU even took the lead on a driving and-one by Royce Woolridge with 9:25 remaining, and for a moment, it seemed as though the fate of the Cardinal’s season was hanging in the balance.
Being on the wrong side of the scoreboard seemed to resurrect the Cardinal almost immediately, and Powell quickly retaliated with a rare 3-pointer to even the score at 50 just nine seconds later. Led by Powell, Anthony Brown and Stefan Nastic, the senior-laden Cardinal squad responded to the Cougars’ run with one of their own, outscoring WSU 20-7 over the next 7:13 of the game to put the game out of reach.
Looking ahead, the Cardinal must play better in all facets of the game if it hopes to contend with the third-seeded Sun Devils on Thursday. Stanford’s defense was at best inconsistent against the Cougars on Wednesday, as evidenced by WSU’s second-half surge, and the Cardinal’s offense was more of a stop-and-start outfit than a well-oiled machine.
Dawkins’ squad once again struggled to generate consistent ball movement, and the team only managed six assists in comparison to its 11 turnovers. The performance marked the fifth straight game in which the Cardinal had failed to register more assists than turnovers, and the team’s offense has unsurprisingly struggled during that stretch. Wednesday night’s victory marked the first time during that streak that the Cardinal had managed more than 70 points.
Tune in to Fox Sports 1 at 8:30 p.m. tonight to see if Stanford can continue to improve its tournament case or if Dawkins and company will be sweating it out come Selection Sunday.
Contact Daniel E. Lupin at delupin ‘at’ stanford.edu.