Southern California gave Stanford its first double-digit home loss of the season by knocking off the Cardinal, 69-53, on Saturday evening in Maples Pavilion. Stanford drops to 8th place in the PAC-10 and now has a .500 overall record (13-13) to go with its 6-9 mark in conference play. But in the interest of generosity, we’ll start the game recap with the positives that Stanford fans can take away from an otherwise disappointing 40 minutes of ball:
- Freshman Josh Huestis played one of his finest games of the year. The forward from Montana only got 19 minutes of playing time, but scored 11 points and pulled down 5 rebounds while shooting 80% from the floor. More importantly, he was the only member of the Cardinal who aggressively attacked the USC defense. Huestis used his prototypical small forward’s frame (6′ 7″, 223) to make separation between him and his defender and get off high-percentage shots from inside the paint. Stanford has never relied on Huestis to score, so his improving ability to put up points will provide a huge boost for the Card in the future. And perhaps more than any other freshman, he has the build and athleticism to be a star with a little more experience against top collegiate competition.
- Dwight Powell had a rough offensive game, but his 10 rebounds are tied for a personal career high.
- Johnny Dawkins gave Aaron Bright an opportunity to play quality minutes and run the point for the majority of the game. One has to figure that unless incoming freshman Chasson Randle converts to a true point guard over the summer–a development that doesn’t appear likely given his desire to score rather than be a pure distributor–Bright could take over starting 1 responsibilities either at the start of or at some point next season.
- You wouldn’t have thought it by just watching the game, but Stanford outrebounded USC by 8 boards.
And now for the naked truth.
USC was extremely hot shooting the ball, and Stanford made a habit of leaving Trojans open on the perimeter for entirely uncontested three balls. The team shot 57% from behind the arc, and 53% overall from the field. When they couldn’t get a perimeter look, they penetrated and got the ball to forward/center Nikola Vucevic–a Montenegro native who heard “U-S-A” chants while shooting free throws–who led all scorers with 19 points and added on 14 rebounds. The 6′ 10″ junior had front-court colleague Alex Stepheson right behind him and scoring 15 points of his own. Stanford’s lack of size down low showed against Stepheson and Vucevic: the duo shot a combined 63% from the field, primarily on bunnies from point blank range.
The contributions of the Nate Robinson-esque Maurice Jones also deserve recognition. The undersized freshman point guard came off the bench to score 10 points, but his more significant addition to the victory was a quickness that Aaron Bright and Jarrett Mann could not match defensively.
Stanford’s night, other than the aforementioned silver linings, was an unfortunate combination of poor shooting (there was an airballed free throw), poor decisions, and overall futility against a clearly better USC team. Stanford only made one-third of its shot attempts and didn’t even make 20% of its tries from downtown. Jeremy Green, who’s carried the scoring burden for the Card for the last three weeks, scored only 11 points and was silent for much of the game before appearing on the television broadcast with his face covered by a Gatorade towel. And other than Huestis, the freshmen didn’t show up. Powell, Bright, John Gage, and Anthony Brown combined for 17 points.
Sure, there was some better ball movement and something like an offensive gameplan going on, but it wasn’t pretty, and Stanford forced up many an ill-advised shot.
Stanford heads off to play the Oregon schools on the road next weekend before returning to the Bay Area to host Seattle and wrap up the regular season in Berkeley on March 5. For Stanford, the priority list for the season’s final few weeks is simple: continue giving the freshmen as much experience as possible and try to avoid finishing the season at 9th in the conference.