Stanford's Owens closing inon a successful finish
Senior Josh Owens has to be feeling pretty good these days. He's suffered through two of the most disappointing years a competitive basketball player could imagine and now he's on top of the world.
Owens and freshman Chasson Randle each scored 15 points as Stanford beat visiting Nevada, 84-56, in the quarterfinal of the National Invitation Tournament Wednesday night in Maples Pavilion.
The next stop for the Cardinal (24-11) is Madison Square Garden in New York City, where it will play in the national semifinals against Massachusetts on Tuesday. Washington and Minnesota meet in the other semifinal, with the winners playing for the title on Thursday, March 29.
"Getting the additional practice time, the tournament experience, can only help us," Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said. "We have a good feel for the type of environment it's going to be. It's one of the best facilities for basketball in the world."
Owens missed out on the postseason fun when he sat out a medical redshirt season with an unspecified health condition two years ago and suffered through a losing season last year.
He's made up for lost time this year.
"It's special to still be playing basketball right now," Owens said. "There are a lot of teams who'd like to be playing right now."
Josh Huestis added 12 points for Stanford, which played in the preseason NIT this season and becomes the fourth team to make two appearances at the Garden in the same season and the first since Ohio State in 2008.
"The most important thing is to have a successful run," Dawkins said. "We want to be champions and we still have that chance. We want to put up a banner in Maples Pavilion."
Owens, a freshman on the 2008 Sweet 16 team that included three future NBA players, is the final link to the Cardinal's last appearance in the NCAA.
"It's been an amazing five years, the last four under coach Dawkins," Owens said. "He's a teacher of the game who has seen it at every level."
Owens began his Stanford career looking up to Brook Lopez, Robin Lopez and Landry Fields. The Lopez twins left for the NBA, Trent Johnson left for LSU and Owens and Fields were left with no coach, until Dawkins took over.
The Cardinal won 20 games and played in the College Basketball Invitational the next season. Then things went horribly wrong for Owens, who was diagnosed with a heart condition that could have threatened his career. A year later he was cleared and returned to play on a team that collected a mere 14 wins.
Those are distant memories for him now.
This year may not have played out the way Owens wanted but it is ending on a high note.
"When you make connecting plays the game is a lot easier," Owens said. "When you hit on all cylinders the game is fun."
Malik Story scored 14 points to lead the Wolf Pack (28-7), which had won six of its previous seven games. Deonte Burton added 13 points and Olek Czyz had 11.
"They came out and established tempo and we didn't respond very well," Nevada coach David Carter said. "We seemed to be a step behind them the whole time. This is still a young team and it was the first time we had a chance to play on a big stage."
The Cardinal, which was ahead at the break, 42-27, and led by as many as 32, set a school record with its 17th win at home.
Dario Hunt, Nevada's leading rebounder, was called for a pair of fouls in the first eight minutes and was 0-of-3 from the floor as the Wolf Pack shot 36 percent in the first half and trailed by as many as 18 points. He finished with two points and four rebounds.
Stanford shot over 53 percent for the game, including 57 percent from long range, and outscored the Wolf Pack 21-5 in points off turnovers.
"This was our best game of the season on both ends of the court," Dawkins said. "The seniors were able to celebrate a win in their last game here."
The Cardinal opened the second half with consecutive slams and eventually took a 56-34 edge with 14:12 remaining to play.
Nevada scored the next nine points before another three-pointer by Aaron Bright stopped the Wolf Pack's only rally.