For as well as the Stanford men’s basketball team played on Thursday night in dominating Arizona State in the Pac-12 tournament quarterfinals, the Cardinal failed to remotely resemble that same squad on Friday. The second-seeded UCLA Bruins (26-8, 12-6 Pac-12) outplayed Stanford (21-12, 10-8) from the outset in Friday night’s Pac-12 semifinal, defeating the Cardinal 84-59 in a one-sided rout.
Sophomore guard Kyle Anderson led the charge for the Bruins, scoring 13 points, grabbing eight rebounds and dishing out seven assists, while his backcourt mate Norman Powell was a night-long terror to Stanford in the open court. Powell finished with 22 points on 7-of-10 shooting from the floor and was 8-of-9 from the free-throw line.
Using the formula that has been successful for them throughout the season, the Bruins used a stifling, aggressive defense that forced Stanford turnovers and allowed one of the nation’s best offenses to get out into transition early and often. UCLA forced four Stanford turnovers during the first 3:35 of the game to jump out to a 14-2 lead and never looked back, pushing the lead all the way to 24-5 before the Cardinal finally began to push back.
Stanford whittled the lead to 15 by halftime and scored the first points of the second half on a driving runner by Chasson Randle to trim the margin to 44-31, but the Cardinal would get no closer. Turnovers on the team’s next three possessions doomed any thoughts of a possible Stanford comeback, and before Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins had a chance to call a timeout, UCLA’s lead stood at 20. The Bruins were able to coast to the finish line from there, stopping short the Card’s deepest conference tournament run since 2010.
Stanford did little to slow down UCLA’s top-ten ranked offense, allowing the Bruins to shoot an astonishing 65.2 percent from the field. The Cardinal were handily outrebounded 35-22, and for the sixth time in seven games, Stanford had more turnovers than assists.
Senior forward Dwight Powell finished with 16 points in the final conference action of his collegiate career. Randle was the only other Stanford player in double figures with 11 points, but it was his lowest scoring output since a 6-point effort against Washington State on Jan. 15. It was also the first time in five games that the junior guard had failed to score at least 21 points.
It was a disappointing end to a promising start to the tournament for the Cardinal, which saw witness to Stanford’s most lopsided win over a projected NCAA Tournament team this season in its victory against Arizona State. Unfortunately, it also was the scene of Stanford’s worst defeat of the season. UCLA has now handed Stanford two of its three worst losses by margin of defeat this season.
The end of Stanford’s three-game winning streak cements the fact that for the sixth consecutive season, the Cardinal failed to register to a four-game winning streak against Pac-12 opponents. The loss also means that Stanford still hasn’t beaten UCLA in consecutive games since the 2003-04 season, the last time the Cardinal won the conference championship.
Despite the poor performance against the Bruins, it seems that unlike in each of the previous five seasons, Stanford will have an opportunity to redeem itself in the NCAA Tournament. With five wins against RPI top-50 opponents, the Cardinal seem likely to receive an at-large bid to the Big Dance for the first time since 2008. ESPN “Bracketologist” Joe Lunardi currently projects Stanford as a ninth-seed, meaning that any first-round victory would mean a date with a number-one seed in the round of 32.
If Stanford wants to be able to hang with the Floridas and the Wichita States of the world next weekend, it simply cannot afford to start slowly like it has in its most recent poor performances. In three of Stanford’s last four defeats, the Cardinal have fallen behind by double digits early in the first half and have never been able to recover. Taking care of the ball early against the tough defenses of March will be a key point of emphasis for the Cardinal moving forward.
Stanford will discover its seeding fate on Sunday at 3:30 p.m., when the brackets are released by CBS as part of Selection Sunday.
Contact Daniel E. Lupin at delupin ‘at’ stanford.edu.