The Bruins visited Maples Pavilion and took care of Stanford, 69-65, in the Card’s penultimate conference home game on Thursday night. And though Stanford didn’t play poorly, the final score doesn’t accurately reflect the degree to which Ben Howland and UCLA controlled the game.
The Cardinal stayed close for most of the first half and closed the gap to as few as 4 points in the game’s closing minutes. But UCLA led by double digits for significant portions of the second half and had as large as a 16-point margin. Stanford, on the other hand, never led. And even though Jeremy Green continued his hot streak by scoring a career-high 27 points, the Bruins’ more balanced scoring attack was by any objective measure the superior offense on the floor.
Sophomore forward Reeves Nelson led UCLA with 18 points, but fellow starting forward Tyler Honeycutt was the game’s most important player. Honeycutt finished with 16 points and 4 rebounds, but his biggest contribution to his team’s win was his ability to draw defenders, stretch the floor, and disrupt the strange somewhat zone-like man defense that Stanford has implemented in recent weeks. Honeycutt never did anything jaw-droppingly impressive, but his length and athleticism exemplified the type of player that has best penetrated Stanford defenses all season. (Take, for one other example, Washington State’s Klay Thompson, another long and lean guard/forward hybrid.) Freshman center Joshua Smith–a 6′ 10″, 305 lbs. player–also had a double-digit night by scoring 13 for the Bruins. Smith recorded a game-high 9 rebounds and a memorable block along the baseline.
Both teams were fairly effective shooting from the field (Stanford shot 44% while UCLA shot just under 47%) which made rebounding all the more important, especially when, with under 3 minutes remaining, the Cardinal made the game interesting. But UCLA outrebounded Stanford by 8 and grabbed 3 more offensive boards, all the while committing 5 fewer fouls and making 8 more free throws. The Card have returned to their old free throw shooting form, and shot only 57% from the line on Thursday. Even though UCLA deserved to win and probably deserved to win by a margin much wider than 4, better rebounding and foul shooting could have stolen a win for Stanford.
Jeremy Green’s strikingly quick and dramatic turnaround has now been in full force for 5 games, in which he has scored at least 21 points per game and is averaging 24. He continues to attempt some awfully questionable shots, but they’ve been falling for the last two and a half weeks. Freshman Anthony Brown, who had been quiet since his breakout game against Oregon State at the end of January, scored 15 points and rebounded 4 balls. Junior forward Josh Owens had another solid night, albeit one in which he wasn’t given the ball much, by scoring 12 points on 7 field goal attempts and pulling down a team-high 5 rebounds.
Stanford fans have–or at the very least should have–accepted that this year is over and has been for weeks. The one consolation in the remaining 5 regular season games is to develop the freshman class and feel out how this team will function next season. With no seniors on the roster and only one incoming freshman for 2011 (Illinois guard Chasson Randle) what you see now is pretty much what you’ll see next winter. Although Jeremy Green has regained his mojo and has returned to form as the team’s #1 scorer, it doesn’t appear to be beneficial to the development of the young talent to simply give Green the ball and tell him to score. He’s talented, but he’s no one-man miracle machine. And to compete in the PAC-10 and hopefully nationally, Johnny Dawkins has to start developing an offense for this team. At the moment, they merely set screens to get Green open to receive the ball. That won’t be good enough for Stanford to eventually take another step in the right direction.
Stanford drops to 13-12 overall and 6-8 in the PAC-10. That’s good for 7th place in the conference. The Card’s next game will take place on Saturday at 7:30 PM in Maples Pavilion, when Stanford will host the USC Trojans.