After knocking off the Oregon State Beavers on Thursday, the Stanford
Cardinal had put themselves in position for their first home sweep in the second
half of conference play under Johnny Dawkins. A win on Sunday and the Farm Boys
would all but wrap up a chance to make their second trip to the MSG this
But record-wise, Oregon State was the lesser of two evils for Stanford this weekend, as the Oregon Ducks sauntered into Maples Pavilion with a 9-5 conference record. So not only was the game important for the reasons above, but a victory over the Ducks would also create a tie for fifth in the much-maligned Pac-12.
In front of a national TV audience, the Crusading Altmans dressed their Sunday best, rocking the sleek silver embroidering on a gun-metal gray backdrop. Slices of lime scattered throughout to remind you of their actual school colors. Nothing special for the Cardinal, just the traditional home whites with cardinal lettering and numbering.
There was a game to be played, and one that had a certain Bootleg writer who poaches whichever season-ticket holder's seat is open on more edge than usual. This was a Jay-Z show-me-what-you-got-game. Has the ship been righted 100 percent? Is this team ready to re-join the conference's "second tier" of contenders?
At first, the answer was a resounding "yes." The Farm Boys came out playing in-your-face, I-ain't-givin'-you-jack defense. The Cardinal seemed intent on not letting two of the key players in January's loss against the Ducks be the killers again. Tony Woods went quickly out of the game with two fouls, the second one of the offensive variety, drawn by the charge-master Andrew Zimmermann (though this particular call wasn't a charge). Heck, it took more than four minutes for the Quacks to get their first bucket, and even then, it was a put back off an air ball by Devoe Joseph, the man who murdered the Cardinal for 30 points in Eugene.
Offensively, the Card made a point right off the bat of pounding it down low, only the target was Dwight Powell. Powell showed off his stuff by muscling his way over E.J. Singler for the first bucket of the game only 20 seconds in. Next, it was penetration and pitch time - two open Andrew Zimmermann jumpers from the right baseline. 6-2 home team by the first mandatory.
Then it was time for the reserves to make their mark on the game. John Gage, known for his affinity for the long ball (because as Greg Maddux once told us, chicks dig the long ball), backed his man down from ten feet out and went turnaround city over Kyle's baby bro. Josh Huestis, entering the game with a shaved head, did his best Dwight-Powell-first-possession-of-the-game imitation, only it was over Devoe Joseph. 12-7 Card by the second mandatory.
But the second stanza gave the 6,120 in attendance the first bad omen. Chasson Randle, driving to the hoop, stopped at the block to get the defending Tyrone Nared up in the air. Sure-fire foul, right?
It appeared as though Nared hammered Randle, but the trio of Dick Cartmell, Randy McCall and Mike Littlewood said "play on." In a call that is made 101 times out of 100, Chasson somehow didn't get the whistle.
However, the Cardinal pushed the lead out further - to nine- on a Gage three with 10:40 remaining. 16-7 Stanford in what was maybe the most impressive nine-plus minutes of the month of February.
But Oregon is too solid to go away at the first sign of resistance, so it was no surprise when Devoe Joseph went on a 5-0 run by himself, first by hitting a face-up jumper in Huestis' grill. Next by draining a three from the left wing in front of the Dawkins dugout. Later in the half, Joseph would have arguably the best move of the opening frame by beautifully side-stepping a planted Chasson Randle to get the blocking call instead of being called for the charge. Here he goes…
And the Ducks had their chances to build off Devoe Doin' Work with two wide-open threes to cut it to one. Neither fell through, and Josh Owens' spin move off his right shoulder for the lefty finish nipped that mini-Duck run in the bud.
Stanford got its groove back. Though the Cardinal were struggling with free throws early on, Dwight Powell calmly knocked down a pair. Aaron Bright then showed off some better decision making. After shooting and missing an 18-footer on the odd-man break after beating the press the first time, No. 2 fed it to No. 33 for a dunk on the next press break. It was time Huestis to get back to work next, grabbing a "GIMME THAT!" rebound off a missed three from Devoe. With 90 seconds to go in the half, Mr. Montana backed down Carlos Emory from the same spot he put the Tubby Transfer to sleep earlier, using the glass deftly to give Stanford a 31-24 lead.
Timeout Altman. His Ducks were reeling. His assistant laid in to Emory, who was either too pissed to pay the second-in-command any attention or too focused to turn his head to his coach. The JuCo transfer who had scored in double figures in five of his last six was greeted on the court by another transfer, Olu Ashaolu, who was trying to give him some words of encouragement and high-five his teammate.
Emory disregarded him, too.
While Carlos didn't really do anything the rest of the half, his teammates certainly did. After an Ashaolu put back dunk to cut it to five and a subsequent stop of the Cardinal attack, EJ Singler was looking for revenge on Josh Huestis…and got it. Nailing a well-contested fade-away in Josh's face made it just a three-point game at the half.
All that work for a one-possession cushion.
Just like the end of the first half in Eugene, where the Ducks would have the last quack. Would it be a similar story this time around?
This question had no definite answer to begin the second half. What was certain was that Oregon was waking up in a big way offensively, as those shots that weren't connecting in the first half were starting to fall. Jeremy Jacob, liable to hit an open free-throw line jumper, did just that. Garrett Sim created just enough space, pulled up on a dime and drilled an impressive right-wing jumper. And then, of course, there was EJ…
But Stanford held serve. Gage, starting the second half for Zimmermann, showed why he was in the lineup right off the bat with a right corner three 40 seconds into the second period. Bright, scoreless in the first half, dropped in a trey from the left wing. Owens, with only four first half field goal attempts, wanted to get more in the mix, and did so. Showing off a great use of the pivot foot not normally seen in big men, he finagled his way around Ashaolu, who could only shrug his shoulders to the ref after his counterpart laid it in.
Olu took umbrage one minute later, though, with one of the nastiest and most athletic second-side baseline dunks you'll ever see. 43-40, Stanford, 14:14 to go.
Another thing was for certain - this second half started off with some serious flow. By the time of that Ashaolu dunk, the first mandatory had yet to be reached. Play continued on for another couple minutes, Stanford continued to hold strong and Owens continued to be a beast down low. Finally, time was called after another Owens finish in the paint. Dana Altman tried to wait for a dead ball but decided it was best to give his guys a blow. 47-42 Stanford. 11:55, and we still had yet to reach the first mandatory timeout.
Back and forth the Cardinal and Ducks played some more, with the Ducks inching closer. EJ Singler even had a chance to knot it up at 49 with a three, but missed. Singler's deep miscue caromed straight to Anthony Brown, who passed it ahead to Aaron Bright, who in turn led the two-on-one break with Owens ahead to his left and only the 5'8 Johnathan Loyd back to defend.
If Scooby-Doo were a Ducks fan, this is when he would have said "Ruh-Roh!"
Ruh-roh indeed, Scoobs. You can only imagine what happened next - I believe they call it "Lob City" an hour-long plane flight to the south. 51-46. 10:39. Media timeout because the net got caught up on the rim after Owens hammered home the alley-oop.
During the timeout, I looked up at the scoreboard and the person next to me said, "Stanford hasn't even been called for a foul in this half yet!"
On cue, Ashaolu got fouled by Owens on the left block, and made the shot, for an and-1 opportunity. After the made freebie, it was a two-point game.
The calls started to mount against the Card. Tyrone Nared lost the ball while flailing his arms in the air, making it appear as if someone had knocked it out of his mitts for him. It paid off - the zebras took the bait, even though there was clearly nobody near him.
So Oregon got the ball back, and after an offensive rebound, Ashaolu powered up through Huestis, laid it up and got a friendly roll and the foul call. After hitting the free throw, the Louisiana Tech transfer had given his new school its first lead of the game.
Stanford didn't take long to respond, however. With a bounce pass through the heart of the key, Bright found a cutting Powell on the right baseline to give the Card the lead right back. Then, Bright decided it was best to find his inner Mitch Johnson again, kicking out to a wide open Anthony Brown, who drilled a three right in front of Coach Dawkins. Just like that, Stanford was back up four. After another stop, Aaron opted to look for his own offense, drawing a foul on his way up to go to the free throw line after the under-eight mandatory. It was time for Stanford to start creating some separation.
Out of the timeout, Bright smoothly hit the first but clanked the second. It's ok though - offensive rebound to the Cardinal and after a foul, Dwight Powell would go to the line. Clank. Make. Two for four in that mini-segment, and the Card's lead was at six.
The lead hung around two possessions before EJ Singler geared up for his final stand. The junior from Medford drove from the left wing to the rack, was met by Owens, and just got it over Owens' outstretched arm to cut the lead to two. After Chasson responded right back with a quick layup, the last two players to score collided for a loose ball on an Oregon miss. With both players pushing and shoving, the one in white was whistled for the foul. On the ensuing inbounds play, Singler lost his defender through an elevator screen and drilled a right-wing three to make it a one-point game.
You could feel the ire in the crowd, and it only got worse. Bright tried to respond by blowing past Garrett Sim. Getting fouled in the process, Bright heaved it up at the hoop and the ball danced on the rim…(did someone smack the backboard?)...ball falls off. The Farm Boys trudged into the under-four mandatory much in the same way they did the under-eight, with Bright going to the line for a pair of free throws. Only this time, it was a one-point game.
The Card were 55 percent at the line for the game at this time, but with Stanford's most reliable free throw shooter set to take the stage again, the lead was bound to expand a little, even if he had just split a pair.
Let's just say it was still 62-61 when Oregon next touched the ball. They only had it for a fleeting moment, however, as the potential Sunday version of Eric Moreland (Carlos Emory) turned it over, leading to a Josh Owens slam with 3:45 to go. Three-point game, but still feeling very uneasy about this one.
The Card came down and played stifling defense, as they had for most of the game. EJ Singler was dead to rights along the right short corner.
Or was he? With one of the nicest baseline moves I've ever seen at the collegiate level in a game between two non-Top-25 teams that didn't involve a slam dunk (alright, that's a lot of qualifiers), Singler up-faked his way to a layup. After an empty Cardinal possession, Singler found himself with the ball on the left wing from 22 feet out. By that time, I'm not sure there was a person in the building who didn't think that was gonna go in. Singler's three gave Oregon its second lead of the game and capped off a spurt where the reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week scored the last ten points for his team. 66-64 Quacks, 2:47 to go.
Plenty of time still for the Card to tie this one up. After all, it only took one field goal to do so. It didn't come on the first possession, nor the second; nor, after Owens was able to get it on the left block, on the third…two turnovers on back-to-back possessions!
But, thanks to the Cardinal D, it was still 66-64. Devoe Joseph was nowhere to be found, thanks to the blanket Jarrett Mann had wrapped around him; his best attempt was a contested layup that he missed. Even Singler couldn't stretch the lead out, missing a three. Then Joseph tried to play the role of hero again, only he lost the ball! Owens snatched it away and Dawkins called timeout with 22.3 to play.
Here it was - in a can-you-turn-the-corner-type game, it came down to being able to execute offense on the final play of the game down two. Stanford had won games before in the final possession with defensive stops against UCLA and Oregon State, but could they win one by making a jumper?
When the Farm Boys broke the huddle, the crowd rose to its feet, hoping to see an Act of Valor five days before it was due to come out in theaters. Dawkins chose to give the Rock Island Rookie the chance to earn a medal of honor, putting the keys in his hands to try to send it to OT. Chasson got it, rose and released a contested top-of-the-key jumper to tie it…
But there's Powell with a man's rebound on the right side of the court! 14 seconds left now. Powell hands it right back to Randle, trusting in his freshman compadre.
Randle, in the right corner, powers his way to the hoop, goes up for the layup, gets swarmed by multiple gun metal gray defenders...did I see contact? No...misses the rim. Rebound Ashaolu. Foul on Stanford.
Ashaolu would have been one of the first options to put on the line, except it was only Stanford's fifth team foul. For as many calls that seemingly went against the Farm Boys, it could have helped to have a couple more go against them earlier in the half.
Oregon still had to inbound the ball a couple more times, though, which they did. Devoe Joseph would be man who drew the seventh foul.
He needed to make both to extend the game, but was there really any question that he wouldn't? Besides maybe Singler, there wasn't a cooler cat on the court than Devoe, and both of his freebies were no doubters.
There were still four ticks on the clock, but with a four-point gap, this game was over unless Justin Dentmon magically appeared in a Duck uniform. Instead, it was Johnathan Loyd who was guarding the ball, and he smartly left Aaron Bright alone to shoot a three that, uncontested, couldn't have changed the outcome of the game.
It missed anyways. 68-64. Oregon. Final.
So close to making the next mini-jump as a program. It was there - it was so tantalizingly there for the taking. All the rolls off the rim that didn't go for Josh and Chasson; all the ones that did for Olu and EJ. You could complain about calls all you want (and I guess I did over the course of this article), but in the end, Oregon made the plays to win the game.
It wasn't meant to be. The Farm Boys are just not quite there yet.
Trying to put the game out of my mind, I joined some friends at the Yard House Grill in San Jose, only to see multiple TV's showing a replay of the game.
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