Johnny Dawkins (AP/Sakuma)
The Washington Huskies, fresh off their resounding victory over rival Washington State, return home for the first of two against the surprising Bay Area schools. First on the docket, the 10-1 Stanford Cardinal – one of the Pac-10’s biggest mysteries approaching the second week of conference play.
The Cardinal entered Pac-10 play undefeated in nine games but were blown off the floor by ASU in their conference home opener last week, After losing by 30, Stanford regrouped nicely to flatten Arizona by 16 two nights later.
This is a new-look Stanford Cardinal squad coached by first year Head Coach and former Duke assistant Johnny Dawkins. After losing the Lopez twins to the NBA draft and Head Coach Trent Johnson to LSU, the Cardinal have shifted to a more up-tempo guard oriented offense - and the results have been fairly positive thus far.
The Cardinal emphasize versatility, led by streaky shooting guard Anthony Goods (17 points, 3.8 rebounds per game) and multi-skilled forward Lawrence Hill (13.7 points, 6.3 rebounds per game). Stanford features four players who average double-digits in scoring (guard Landry Fields chips in with 11.6 points and 6.7 rebounds, while forward Josh Owens supplies 10.8 points and 5.3 rebounds per game) and start three seniors, including point guard and former O’Dea grad, Mitch Johnson.
With so much experience, it’s not surprising Stanford’s players understand the importance of sharing the ball, and are currently fourth in the conference in assists, averaging over 15 a game. The Cardinal are a mediocre shooting team, but they do a solid job of making the extra pass and finding open shots, taking advantage of their size and athleticism on the perimeter for open jumpers or attacking open lanes. Other than Johnson, the Cardinal are adept at swapping position as needed and move with ease between the post and the 3-point line. Excluding Johnson, the other four starters have attempted at least 40 3-pointers each.
Where the Cardinal break down is in the interior where they lack a big body to clog the middle. Owens and Hill are tall and athletic, but neither are built to handle the rigors of banging for 40 minutes against legitimate power forwards like Jon Brockman and Mathew Bryan-Amaning. Last week, Arizona State forward Jeff Pendergraph dropped a career-high 31 points against the overwhelmed Cardinal front court, followed up two nights later by a 17-point, 16-rebound performance by Arizona center Jordan Hill.
Stanford's depth is thin, especially underneath, and the Huskies will look to capitalize against Dawkins’ short bench. Brockman and company should be in for a big night against the outmanned Cardinal front court, especially if foul trouble comes into play.
In the back court, Stanford is long and experienced, possessing a significant height advantage, but the Huskies are quicker and better shooters, even without the help of injured freshman sharpshooter Elston Turner. As always, the smaller Husky guards will attack the basket relentlessly, knowing that the superior UW frontcourt should dominate the glass against the poor rebounding Cardinal.
Stanford’s defense is mediocre as well, and the Huskies should have no shortage of open looks at the hoop.
Meanwhile, the vastly improved Husky defenders face an opponent that moves the ball around the court with ease, which will test Washington’s defensive rotation and ability to close on shooters. Johnson is a crafty, experienced point guard, and Stanford doesn’t make many mistakes, so Washington will again be forced to crank the defensive pressure up a notch and force the Cardinal into turnovers since they aren’t likely to create many without help.
Overall, this is a great match-up for Washington. After facing two teams that predominately zone in ASU and Arizona, Stanford now faces their first pressure man-to-man match-up of the season. Look for the Huskies to smother the Cardinal while trying to force them into generating their offense from behind the arc.
Offensively, the Huskies will pound the ball down low into Brockman, Bryan-Amaning and Quincy Pondexter, to whom the Cardinal have no counter, exploiting their mismatch in the post while trying to draw Stanford into foul trouble. This is going to be a high scoring affair between two up-tempo teams, so don’t be surprised to see the Huskies climb well into the eighties before it’s all said and done.
Huskies win big, 87-65