In a fitting end to Stanford’s worst basketball season since Ronald Reagan was President, the Card fell to the ninth-seeded Oregon State Beavers in the PAC-10 Tournament play-in game, 69-67. On a day in which the Big East and Big 12 conferences showcased that even their weaker teams have the talent to be nationally competitive, OSU and Stanford reminded the country that the PAC-10 has a long way to go before rejoining the nation’s elite collections of basketball programs.
Keeping with the presidential theme, America’s First Brother-in-Law and Beaver head coach Craig Robinson led his Beavers to victory despite an obvious disadvantage in pure roster talent and size. Oregon State got 84% of its scoring from the bench, where Jared Cunningham (usually a starter), Ahmad Starks, and Devon Collier all went for double figures. In the first postseason game of his collegiate career, freshman forward Collier nearly recorded a double-double with 19 points and 8 rebounds (6 offensive) while posting a career-high scoring night. Cunningham had a team-high 24 points, 20 of which came after halftime and many of which came on late-game fouls by the Card. Starks rounded out OSU’s bench scoring with 15 points. The Beavers will face top-seeded Arizona on Thursday for the right to move to the tournament semifinals on Friday.
Stanford’s only reliable scoring option was Jeremy Green, who posted 25 points to lead all scorers while making just under 50% of his 3-point attempts. But despite the impressive stat lines of Green and the 3 Beaver reserves, Wednesday’s game was, more than anything else, an incredible showing of futility by both teams. At halftime, Stanford and Oregon State had combined for just 44 points, and Stanford shot 12% from the field in the first half. Even with a good shooting performance in the second 20 minutes, Stanford finished the game shooting slightly under 33% from the field, and the teams combined to shoot just 34%. Robinson’s zone, which has been discussed several times during the season on this site, showed once again that it can completely shut down the Cardinal offense.
But despite all the ugliness, Stanford had a chance to win the game late in the second half. With 11 seconds remaining in regulation, Stanford’s Jarrett Mann went to the line for two free throws after OSU fouled to keep Stanford from going ahead with a 3-pointer. Mann, one of the West Coast’s worst free-throw-shooting guards and a 49% free throw shooter on the season, missed both and wasted the opportunity to pull even with OSU. Cunningham made one of two free throws to put OSU up by 3, Jeremy Green made two foul shots of his own to pull Stanford within one, and Cunningham again split a pair from the line.
Confused yet? With 6 seconds left, Stanford had the ball down by 2. Jeremy Green caught the in-bounds pass, ran the length of the floor, and threw up what might have been a shot with about 1 second left. The ball meandered off toward the sideline, where freshman forward Anthony Brown caught it as time expired. In the end, Stanford never put up a game-tying shot attempt despite 6 seconds to get the ball down the floor and get a good look at the hoop.
And just like that, Stanford’s season is almost certainly over. As disappointing as failing to make the conference tournament will be for Cardinal fans, the game’s final seconds are an appropriate microcosm of a season of poor coaching, worse execution, and maddening inconsistency.
Stanford falls to 15-16 overall and 7-11 in the conference. Stanford also finishes 1-2 against Oregon State, the second-worst team in the PAC-10, on the year. Although the NCAA tournament and the NIT are not even remotely possible for the Card, Stanford has a slim chance to participate in the CBI. The Cardinal, however, might not be selected to participate in the nation’s third-most-prestigious postseason tournament, and the program has little incentive to play either way. The CBI would cost Stanford money and would merely give the team a chance to play one or two more games. Ironically, Stanford’s last game in the CBI was an overtime loss to Oregon State on March 25, 2009 in Corvallis. At that time, the current juniors–Green, Josh Owens, Mann, Jack Trotter, and Andrew Zimmerman–were freshmen, and Owens and Green combined for 5 points.
Disregarding financial matters, the team would be wise to let this season end. Surely, the freshman class can use as much experience as possible, but Stanford looked completely unmotivated on Wednesday against Oregon State in the conference tournament. Against a mid-major in a worthless postseason tournament, how excited can we expect the Card to be? How hard would they play?
Stanford has now recorded its first consecutive losing seasons since 1984-86. Last year, the Card went 14-18 overall and an identical 7-11 in the PAC-10. Just three years ago, Stanford was a three-seed in the NCAA tournament and advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.
Head coach Johnny Dawkins will likely receive another year at the helm, but his seat should be very hot. Although Stanford lost Landry Fields to graduation following last season, this year’s freshman class was heralded as the saviors of the program. Although Brown and Dwight Powell–the gems of the class–have both shown flashes of brilliance, the freshmen as a group have never performed consistently on a game-to-game basis, and only John Gage has exhibited significant improvement from November to March. In a sport increasingly ruled by talented freshmen, the fact that Dawkins has been unable to get consistent play out of his rookies speaks to his overall inability to steer Stanford in the right direction so far in his time on the Farm. It will be nearly impossible for athletic director Bob Bowlsby to bring Dawkins back following next season if 2011-12 does not see an NCAA tournament berth for Stanford and proof that Dawkins can do more than recruit.