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Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - January 11, 2013

Stanford backcourt finally showing signs of life

by Rick Eymer

Guards Aaron Bright and Chasson Randle were virtually interchangeable last year, giving Stanford a solid foundation of success en route to the NIT championship and high expectations for this season.

The Cardinal men's basketball team was picked to finish fourth in the Pac-12 by a vote of coaches and media. Bright and Randle were two big reasons why folks thought so highly of Johnny Dawkins' squad coming into the year.

When Stanford takes on visiting Washington at 8 p.m. Saturday, those expectations suddenly seem within reach again.

That's because Randle, who hit his low point of the season in a loss at USC last week, and Bright, whose season has resembled a rollercoaster to date, played well together in Stanford's 78-67 victory over visiting Washington State on Wednesday night in Maples Pavilion.

"We're back in school and it's time to get into the mode of the Pac-12 season," Randle said. "We have a chance to redeem ourselves. You always want to protect home court but just playing at home won't save you. You still have to play."

Randle has been one of Stanford's leading scorers, with Dwight Powell, for most of the season. After missing all six shots he took in a two-point loss to the Trojans last week, Randle had to take a good look at himself.

"I always look for something positive and something negative in every game," Randle said. "That definitely had a carryover affect but then all of us found something within ourselves to use as a springboard."

Coming into Wednesday's game, Randle and Bright had a combined shooting percentage of .350, part of the reason Stanford is ranked last in the Pac-12 in shooting.

Against the Cougars, the two guards combined to shoot 67 percent (10 for 15) from the field, including 5-of-7 from three-point land. It was the type of effort that produced headaches for the Cougars.

Dawkins said he never lost confidence in his guards.

"You could see signs of them coming around," he said. "You could see it in practice. They are both right there. They had a terrific season last year and they keep battling. They both still want to get better."

Washington State entered the game with the Pac-12's best defense. The 78 points Stanford scored matched the most allowed by the Cougars this season. That's certainly a good sign for the Cardinal while moving forward.

Powell, meanwhile, continued his productive year with 16 points and 11 rebounds against the Cougars. In four career games against Washington State, Powell has 46 points and 31 rebounds.

Washington, the defending Pac-12 champion, will be a different story. The Huskies average over 70 points a game, giving the Cardinal defense something to ponder. The Huskies have won eight of the past 10 meetings with Stanford.

It's been two years since Washington has played in Maples Pavilion, and Stanford won that meeting. Bright, a Seattle-area native, always seems to play well against the Huskies.

It's another pivotal game for Stanford, since an unbalanced schedule has the Cardinal meeting the Washington schools just once this season. This is when protecting home court comes to play.

On the other hand, Stanford only plays Arizona and Arizona State once, both on the road. The Cardinal does get a chance to avenge those losses to USC and UCLA.

Bright lost his starting job this season, but that may all change after his breakout performance.

Part of the reason for Bright's early season struggles was a sprained ankle that forced him out of action a total of four games. He says his ankle is about 90-95 percent healthy.

"It's starting to come around," Bright said. "My ankle is getting better and we just focused on running a lot of motion and pushing the ball."

Dawkins was just happy to see his team finally enjoy a good shooting evening.

"It was good to see the ball go in," Dawkins said. "You could see it coming. He's had good practices and he's been productive."

Bright reached double figures for just the fourth time. He entered the game shooting .319 from the field, including .222 from long range.

"Aaron always brings it on practice," said Powell, who also had four blocked shots. "I'm not surprised by what he did."

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