Win and in.
A “W” against the Utes, and
Stanford would all but be assured of an NIT bid at the very least. Twenty wins,
winning record in a BCS conference should Utah score fewer points on Saturday
night? No way the NIT Selection Committee would keep the Farm Boys
All they had to do was beat a sub-250 RPI team on the road. After
walloping Colorado by 24, this should be almost a no-doubter, even if Utah only
lost in Maples by three.
But this game didn’t get off to a good start for the road
team. Utah, one of the worst but hardest working teams in any Big Six conference, came
out fired up in its home finale. The Runnin’ Utes forced a turnover
on Stanford’s first possession and got it down low to Jason Washburn on the
ensuing trip down - he laid it in for the game’s first score. After Owens answered
15 seconds later, Washburn went back at it again with an offensive rebound
tip-in. After Anthony Brown responded with a jumper 20 seconds later, there was
ole’ Washburn again, this time getting to the free throw line and knocking down
both to put the Utes up a deuce. 6-4.
Utah wasn’t supposed to be scoring
But then the Fighting Krystkowiak’s came down to earth,
and Chasson Randle sprung to life. Two straight threes for Randle. Utah turning
it over in transition and missing shots at a frequency they are more used to. At
the under-16, Stanford had claimed the lead 12-9.
And it only went up from there.
A couple of possessions later, Owens gets on the left block with Washburn on
his back and no help - you know what’s coming next. Then John Gage got
in there and immediately, he hits a turnaround jumper. More Utah confusion on offense
- a steal leads to a breakaway for the Rock Island Rookie, who knocks
down the runner over South Carolina’s very own Dijon Farr. Timeout Coach
Stanford is starting to pull away. A ten-point deficit after a Nastic
free throw is almost impossible for the Runnin’ Utes to overcome, especially
when they can’t really shoot well at all.
“What was that, Kevo?!” shouted
Chris Hines, as he came down and drilled a three from the right wing. It wasn’t
his senior day, but the junior guard was looking to close his Huntsman season
with a bang.
Still, Stanford remained in control and played the part of
the playground bully. Hines was curious to see if his superior three-point
shooting would translate to points inside off strong takes, but Powell said, “no
chance, such is what you got. No chance in hell!” as if he was singing Vince
McMahon’s entrance music while swatting away Hines’ shot. Fast break ensued
as Bright penetrated and dropped it off to Owens, and-1 like the Bootleg
Then it came, starting in the most bizarre way possible. Battling the
shot clock, Cedric Martin used the five-up screen and got Josh Owens to show,
freeing up Jason Washburn from downtown for a shot-clock-beating heave. That’s
alright, though, because Washburn hasn’t hit a three in his collegiate
Then they ratcheted up the pressure on the defensive end. It
paid off - Bright charged into Martin. Then Odunsi powered up over Anthony
Brown - one point game.
Time to go zone after Anthony Brown
freebies and try to slow down the Runnin’ Utes, who were for once living up to
their namesake (at least more than usual). All the better for Zonebuster Hines,
who merely sat in the corner and drilled a left baseline three to tie it
Then Utah got to the line…often. The Utes didn’t hit a field goal for the
rest of the half after that Hines three, which came at the 4:29 mark. Didn’t
stop the Utes from scoring seven points from the charity stripe.
Aaron Bright had the best missed layup of the year, drawing Washburn over on his
drive to the rack, forcing him to lay it up higher off the glass than normal.
Weak side wide open for an Owens put back.
And then it was Stanford’s turn to
go to the line. With Gage there for a 1-and-1, Stanford looked like they could
extend their slim lead… Back rim; no can do. Instead, it was Dawson’s 2-2
trip that put the Utes up at the half by one, 34-33.
Utah isn’t supposed to
be on pace for 68; they’d only scored 68 points once in their first 15 Pac-12
games! The longer the Runnin’ Utes stay in this thing…
Once the second
half got underway, it became clear that it wasn’t going to be a question of how
long Coach K could hang in this one; they weren’t going anywhere. Two
turnovers right off the bat for Stanford. Utah wasn’t scoring much, either, but
Stanford couldn’t take advantage. When they weren’t turning it over, the Farm Boys
were getting offensive rebounds. After a Washburn layup, Owens grabbed a
Randle carom and was down in the paint all by his lonesome. Easy layup... huh?
How did that damn thing not go in there? Mann grabs Washburn’s block of Owens,
fires it out to a wide-open Anthony Brown just left of the top of the key… short
on the three.
If the first five minutes of the second half are the most
important of the game like so many say they are, then the Card were up poop’s
creek without a paddle. Though Utah had scored only four points in that
timeframe, Stanford had scored four fewer. No, the question wasn’t how long Utah
would stay in it, not at all. It was…gulp…could they actually win this
The Farm Boys were in for the fight of their lives against a 22-loss
team. Maybe the first time wasn’t a fluke close game…Maybe Utah actually had
Stanford figured out.
Ah, there’s that Cardinal offense! Stefan Nastic, like
he does whenever he gets in there, made his presence felt with a nifty move in
the paint and got the roll. Then Randle did his best Dijon-Farr-against-Colorado
impersonation by banking in a three from the exact same spot Farr did one week
earlier to tie it up at 38.
Ah, there’s that putrid Utah offense! Empty
possessions for the Utes in the form of a Martin missed bunny and Hines
turnover. The door was unlocked for the Cardinal.
But try as they might, they
couldn’t twist the damned knob. Eventually, it was that man Hines again, who
burned the Cardinal time after time in the paint with drives in Maples, taking
it to the rack and giving the Utes the lead.
Back the Cardinal came, as
a Chasson Randle wide open three gave the lead back to Stanford. But the Utes took
a page out of the Old Testament and went eye for an eye in the form of a Dijon
Farr trey at the top of the key. After Josh Owens hit a couple of charity stripe
tosses, Anthony Brown stole a Kareem Storey pass, went down the floor with
five white shirts behind chasing him down, threw up the righty layup from the
left side of the basket - be enough English!- rolls in.
had its chances to extend the lead if only Bright caught that Brown outlet pass
cleanly! Instead, the Bellevue kid had to back it out and had his lefty bounce
pass to Owens taken away by Washburn (on my first viewing, I thought it was very
bad decision; on second watch, Owens could have done a much better job of
sealing Washburn). But there was another chance to make it a two possession
lead…another blown opportunity. Next time down, Dijon Farr slyly stepped back
and hit a mid-ranger from the left baseline to tie the game up at
At the under-eight timeout, Utah had a two-point lead. By the
under-four, Stanford needed to have the lead.
Anthony Brown gave it to them
momentarily, pulling up as a trailer from the right wing to finish off the Aaron
Bright assist. The bench rose in unison, the Cardinal fans behind the
bench went crazy. This could be the momentum changer the Cardinal needed.
sure looked like it, too. Bad teams make bad plays and bad decisions. Utah made
a couple in a row- first with an errant post entry pass to Washburn that sailed
over the 6’10’’ man’s head, next with a feed to Farr for what could have been a
layup in transition. Those are the Utes everyone thought they’d see! All that
was needed was a bucket…
Chasson tried to provide some breathing room, but
lost control of the ball on his way up and had to throw up an awkward attempt
that damn near went in the hole. Nastic was next, trying to turn in the paint,
but was blocked (fouled?) by Dijon Farr. No dice.
By the time the under-four
whistle sounded, Stanford was indeed ahead, but Cedric Martin would be at the
line after the breather. Mission sort-of accomplished, but not really, because
Martin nailed his free throws to give Utah the lead right back.
And then the
game got really interesting.
Stanford ball out of a timeout after
breaking the Utah press. Stanford guards dribbling around aimlessly on the
perimeter. Chasson has it with only three seconds on the shot clock! No problem. Drains
one over Washburn.
Now it was time to get a stop. The Farm Boys had Cedric
Martin covered as he went to the hoop. Too covered. Martin flicks out to Dijon
Farr. Extra pass to…oh no- Hines…Utah back on top. The Huntsman homers haven’t
had this much to cheer about in a month!
But Stanford, a team that has
struggled offensively in the final four minutes of close games, was executing to
perfection. This time, it was Aaron Bright. Nastic sets the screen for his
sophomore guard, who drives to the hoop with Farr trailing, uses that rim as an
obstacle to Farr going up on the reverse layup and knocks it down. Stanford 53,
Utah 52. 2:20 and change.
Utah’s turn. Martin gets it on the left wing,
guarded by Stefan Nastic. Speed advantage to the man with the ball; he
recognizes it and goes to the hoop. Owens comes over in help, weak side now wide
open for Farr to slide on in and receive the pass. Hard foul and 1-2 ensues.
Stanford in the batter’s box now, except they’re in the hole
0-2 and Nastic is swinging at a curveball in the dirt. Lucky for him, the
catcher didn’t hold on to strike three. Martin wasn’t set in the paint as Stefan
drove to the hoop and gets the fortunate foul call. Nastic takes first but not
second, splitting the pair. Back up one, under two minutes now. A stop and
Stanford is in the driver’s seat.
Washburn preferred to be the chauffer,
getting it in the paint 10 feet out and finishing smoothly over Josh Owens.
55-54 with 1:16 to play. The last time Stanford was involved in a 55-54 final,
they lost to the Cougars in Pullman back in January of 2009. Could the Cardinal
strike one more time?
Clock’s running low, though, and Stanford doesn’t have much
going. Someone needs to do something - it’s Aaron, who forces his way into
the paint from the right wing. Shot’s no good, but Powell’s there with the tip -
no! He gets it back - yes!
The Farm Boys were now one stop away from nearly putting
this one on ice - up one with 40 seconds to go. But this was a Utes team
that had been uncharacteristically clutch all second half long, answering
Cardinal stops with stops of their own, Stanford makes with field goals the next
Cedric Martin brings it up… where’s Hines? He’s over on the right wing
- then he makes his move. Diving through the paint and coming out on the
other side, he sets a screen for Washburn. In the process, Powell and Mann
switch. Then Martin makes his move, drives left for a couple of dribbles…just enough
to draw Powell off the hottest hand in the game. Martin’s no dummy - he
feeds the conference’s leading three-point maker in Pac-12 games. With the Utah
bench behind him, Hines elevates…releases…
time, though. Twenty-six ticks and Randle is trying to go all Greg Jennings on
everybody. Gets the screen, spins by Washburn, misses…there’s Owens on the glass!
He goes up, rims out - but he’s fouled!
Josh faced a similar situation
at home against Washington State last year- down 59-57 with seven seconds to go.
His first one was good; his second one wasn’t. Washington State won
Right now, Stanford is down 58-56 with eight seconds to go.
Owens steps to the line, gets into his routine, releases, drills. 58-57. Now the
pressure is really on. Owens feels it. Way short on the second. Washburn gets
the board and is immediately fouled.
But that’s just the team’s fourth.
Eventually, a Utah player gets hacked by a Cardinal opponent for the seventh
time in the second half. It’s Washburn, and 5.0 shows on the clock. Can he ice
Clank. Clock’s running’. So is Chasson. He gets to 25 feet, fires -
backboard, rim, out. Buzzer sounds. Game’s over. 58-57 is your final, and Utah
finishes on top.
No. F’n. Way. And to think the Oregon loss hurt…
path is very muddy. A win against Cal might not be enough to be considered a
Top-100 team by conference tournament’s end. More work needs to be done. A
Can the Card rebound, or will this loss prove to be too much to
overcome? The answer is five days away.
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