"It's everybody's goal before the season starts to make the tourney," Stanford guard Aaron Bright said. "And whatever tournament that we get into and whatever opportunity that we have, we're going to try to fulfill it."
For all of its achievements, Stanford can point to one team statistic as the root of all its troubles this season. The Cardinal ranked dead last in the Pac-12 with its .419 field-goal percentage.
Everywhere else you look, there are respectable numbers, and in some cases, eye-popping numbers.
Bright, who tied a school record with six 3-pointers and scored 27 points in the 89-88 setback to the Sun Devils, missed 13 consecutive 3-pointers at one point early in the season and missed four games with an ankle injury.
Bright has played better of late, of course, and raised his scoring average to 9.4 along with a team-best 97 assists, good for seventh in the conference. He ranks second in the Pac-12 in assists-to-turnover ratio at 2.2.
Bright and Chasson Randle seemed to share their shooting woes. Bright shoots .351 from the field and .313 from long range. Last year he shot .432 from the floor, .436 from 3-point range.
Randle's percentages are also down from last year, when he shot .439 overall, .438 from long range. This year he's at .397 and .358 respectively.
Randle has also raised his level toward the end of the regular season and ranks second (14.0) in scoring behind Dwight Powell. He also leads the team with 58 three-pointers.
Powell is enjoying a banner year, averaging 15.7 points and 8.2 rebounds a game. He's also third in assists behind Bright and Randle and has blocked 35 shots.
"It's every college player's dream to play in the March Madness tournament," Powell said. "It's extremely frustrating to not get our seniors there. But we all learn from it."
John Gage leads the Pac-12 in three-point shooting percentage. He's made 42 of 93 for a mark of .452. Andy Brown also has been a mild surprise and worked his way into the starting lineup, contributing solid efforts.
Perhaps the loss of Anthony Brown for the season was more damaging than anticipated. He would have given the Cardinal another weapon on the perimeter.
Brown started 21 games as a sophomore and 12 as a freshman, displaying a deft shooting touch and a reliable 3-point star. At 6-6, he was a match-up problem at the small forward spot.
Several other players — Rosco Allen, Robbie Lemons, Gabe Harris (the lone senior), Christian Sanders and Stefan Nastic each made at least three starts — showed promise during the year. Freshman Grant Verhoeven appeared in 20 games.
It all came down to the field-goal percentage disparity. Stanford suffered 12 losses by fewer than 10 points, four by two or less and are 2-5 in games decided by three or fewer.
"We've been in a lot of close games," Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said. "That's a good thing. We have to learn how to close those games. Some of that comes down to maturity. Some of that comes down to guys stepping up and making plays that are there to be made."
The Cardinal swept the season series from California, denying the Bears of a chance at the Pac-12 title, by an average of 11.5 points. That's the same average margin by which Stanford lost its season series to Colorado, which handed the Cardinal its worst loss of the season.
Stanford finished the conference season in a four-way tie with USC, Washington and Arizona State. The Cardinal went a combined 1-4 against those teams.
Against the three teams that tied for second — Oregon, California and Arizona — Stanford won three of five games.
With the exception of Harris, everybody else is eligible to return, which would give the Cardinal another sense of high expectation. For this year, however, maybe even an appearance in the NIT seems somewhat shallow.
Fourth-ranked Stanford (31-2) heads into the NCAA tournament riding a 17-game winning streak, which includes its 51-49 victory over UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament championship tilt.
The win over the Bruins, accomplished despite Chiney Ogwumike's career-low three points, shows both Stanford's strengths and weaknesses.
On the positive side, Amber Orrange displayed a tenacity and leadership on the court she hasn't showed much this season.
On the negative side, the Cardinal showed just how vulnerable it is without Ogwumike in the lineup. She did manage 10 rebounds, two blocked shots and a steal but one of the nation's top players has to score.
Will UCLA's defensive game plan be imitated by other teams? Well, most teams have already tried the double- and triple-team thing against her. The Bruins just made it work.
"Our team had to grit it out and quite honestly we haven't had to do that a lot during this year," Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. "We learned a lot about ourselves. I think we'll just be better because of this experience."
With an extra week, just in time for finals week, Ogwumike has to take care of her body, rest and prepare for the mental demand of the NCAA tournament. It's a challenge she has easily accepted in the past.
Ogwumike leads the conference with her 23.0 scoring average, .582 shooting percentage, and 13.2 rebounding average, and if Orrange, who ranks third in assists at 4.28, can maintain her pace, would be an effective one-two punch for Stanford.
Joslyn Tinkle, at 12 points a game, ranks 19th. Orrange, at 10.3, ranks 25th. Mikaela Ruef averages 6.7 rebounds, good for 14th in the conference.
While Stanford ranks fifth in turnover margin, the Cardinal ranks first in assists to turnover ratio in the Pac-12.
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