The Stanford men’s basketball team, in all likelihood, can finally punch its ticket to the NCAA Tournament. With an emphatic 79-58 blowout victory over Arizona State (21-11, 10-8 Pac-12) in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals on Thursday night, the Cardinal (21-11, 10-8) appear to be secure in their bid for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2008. It was the Cardinal’s second victory over the Sun Devils in three tries this season, and the victory now sets up a showdown with UCLA in the semifinals of the conference tournament on Friday.
Junior guard Chasson Randle was again stellar for Stanford, tallying 21 points and four assists, while senior forward Dwight Powell scored all 15 of his points in the second half to help the Cardinal pull away from ASU.
Stanford’s effort was markedly improved from that in Wednesday night’s opening-round win over Washington State, when the Cardinal struggled to pull away from the 11th-seeded Cougars until the final five minutes of the game.
The Daily outlined three keys to the game against ASU — turnovers, rebounding and perimeter defense — in its preview of the Pac-12 Tournament on Tuesday, and head coach Johnny Dawkins’ crew successfully hit on all three criteria in the blowout win on Thursday.
The victory over Arizona State marked the first time in six games that the Cardinal registered more assists than turnovers, a statistic that will undoubtedly make Dawkins, a former point guard, quite happy. Stanford finished with 13 assists against 10 turnovers. All five starters registered at least one assist for the Cardinal, and no player turned it over more than twice.
The Cardinal also did well to dominate ASU on the glass, as the Sun Devils entered the game with the worst rebounding margin in the conference. Stanford outrebounded Arizona State 34-23 and held ASU to just two offensive rebounds for the entire game, a dramatic turnaround from the last matchup between these two teams. During ASU’s 76-64 victory in Tempe on Feb. 26, the Cardinal were outrebounded by 3 and allowed ASU 14 offensive rebounds.
To the casual observer, the most notable takeaway from this game would be the job Stanford did defensively on Arizona State’s star guard tandem of Jahii Carson and Jermaine Marshall. The Cardinal held the highest-scoring duo in the Pac-12 to just 14 points on a combined 6-of-21 shooting effort, another extreme contrast from the most recent matchup between these two teams, when ASU’s backcourt exploded for 42 points on 61 percent shooting.
“Well, I tell our guys this all the time,” said Dawkins. “It’s hard to stop a great player. You want to contain them. I thought our guys did a great job focusing on what we needed to do to slow them down.”
Concerted defensive efforts like this one will be crucial for the Cardinal moving forward, as it will continue to play teams with comparable or even better offensive talent than ASU as they move deeper into March.
While the Cardinal seemed to be in control from the opening tip, the game was not in hand until late in the second half. Stanford started the game on a 9-0 run, but allowed ASU to claw its way back into the game thanks to a series of fruitless offensive possessions midway through the first half. A 3-pointer by the Sun Devils’ Bo Barnes evened the score at 27 with 58 seconds remaining in the first half, and it was only senior John Gage’s 3-pointer on Stanford’s next possession that allowed the Cardinal to enter halftime with a lead.
Stanford was able to open up more of a lead during the first ten minutes of the second half, pushing the lead to 13 at one point after an Anthony Brown steal and layup on the other end. The Sun Devils did not quit, however, drawing back within six at the 8:55 mark after a pair of free throws by Shaquielle McKissic.
From there on out, it was all Dwight Powell and the Cardinal, as Stanford ended the game on a 28-13 run to put away any doubt. The win marked the first time since 2008 that the Cardinal have won consecutive Pac-12 tournament games, and it is also just the fifth time in Dawkins’ six seasons at the helm that Stanford has won three straight against Pac-12 competition.
To make it four straight, something Dawkins and company have never accomplished, the Cardinal will have to take out the UCLA Bruins on Friday night. It appeared on Thursday that UCLA was able to solve whatever was ailing it when the Bruins were so resoundingly defeated by Washington State last Saturday, as Steve Alford’s squad blew out the upstart Oregon Ducks, 82-63.
For Stanford to have success against the Bruins, the Cardinal must again do a good job of taking care of the ball and playing solid perimeter defense. The difference in the two games between the teams this season is striking — in UCLA’s blowout victory in Westwood, Calif. on Jan. 23, the Bruins forced 19 Cardinal turnovers in a 91-74 rout. When the Cardinal got revenge at Maples Pavilion on Feb. 22, Stanford still turned it over 15 times, but was able to overcome the turnovers by dishing out 17 assists and holding UCLA to 44.8 percent shooting.
If the Cardinal want to beat UCLA in consecutive games for the first time since the 2003-04 season, they cannot afford to allow the Bruins the points off of turnovers that UCLA is accustomed to. UCLA ranks third in the country with 307 steals this season, and if the Cardinal let the Bruins approach anything close to their 9.6 steals per game average, it could be a long Friday night for the Cardinal. A consistent effort and a victory, however, could mean a bump up in seeding for Stanford heading into the Big Dance.
Tipoff is set once more for 8:30 p.m. on Friday, and the game will be televised on Fox Sports 1.
Contact Daniel E. Lupin at delupin ‘at’ stanford.edu.