Sports

Cardinal men lose third straight Pac-12 hoops contest

 

Stanford's hopes of making the NCAA men's basketball tournament for a second straight year likely rests on its performance at the Pac-12 Conference tournament in Las Vegas, which begins Wednesday.

The Cardinal was once considered a lock to reach the biggest dance of the postseason, but after losing seven of its last 10, that certain invitation seems to have vanished in the maze of misery that has formed a dark cloud over Stanford.

Fifth-ranked Arizona swept the Cardinal off the court at McKale Center on Saturday, 91-69, in the regular-season finale and dumped the residue of Stanford's season in the nearest trashcan.

What is left of Stanford's once promising season will need to emerge from the ashes.

After beating Washington on Jan. 28, the Cardinal were 6-2 in the Pac-12, 15-5 overall and a projected eight seed. Injuries to freshmen Reid Travis and Michael Humphrey and junior Rosco Allen the past five weeks have certainly played a part in Stanford's demise, though there's nothing specific upon which to define the collapse.

Stanford (9-9, 18-12) can still make something of its season and with seniors Chasson Randle, Anthony Brown and Stefan Nastic at the forefront, magic can happen.

Randle was well on his way to becoming Stanford's all-time leading scorer a month ago, but has suddenly caught the bug that affected his sophomore shooting stats. He's currently shooting .399 from the field, a percentage that matches his sophomore production.

Over his past nine games, Randle is shooting .295 from the field and .250 from long range. Last year he shot close to 48 percent from the field and nearly 39 percent from 3-point land.

He's been asked to carry a heavy load offensively, just as Anthony Brown has been asked to carry a heavy lead defensively.

Brown has shot the ball at a rate of over 43 percent for the season, and just under 40 percent the past nine games. He has a shooting percentage of nearly 45 percent from the 3-point line.

An indication that Stanford could pull something out of its hat during the postseason lies not just in what the team did last year in reaching the Sweet Sixteen, but in the eight losses by fewer than 10 points the Cardinal suffered this season. That's a missed free throw or lay-up away from a much more convincing resume.

"We kept fighting and must keep on fighting," Stanford senior Stefan Nastic said. "It has been very frustrating but it is just tough times. We have to keep pushing through, and fight till the end. I am confident we will get it going because that's the kind of team we are."

Stanford enters the conference tournament as the No. 6 seed after finishing in a fifth-place tie with Arizona State. The Cardinal meets No. 11 seed Washington, which knocked off No. 3 Utah in its regular-season finale, on Wednesday in the late game, scheduled for approximately 8:40 p.m. The winner gets a rematch with the Utes on Thursday, also in the late game.

"We are going to keep fighting," Cardinal coach Johnny Dawkins said. "We have to find ways to get ourselves out of the situations we're in. Now we are only guaranteed one more game. We have to make sure we focus and prepare properly to give ourselves a chance to keep playing."

Stanford swept the season series with the Huskies and lost at Utah, the only time the teams met this season.

Randle paced Stanford with 16 points against the Wildcats, followed by Brown and Nastic each with 14. Rosco Allen added 10.

The Cardinal managed to hang with the Wildcats well into the first half, overcoming a slow start to pull within 27-25.

Arizona took over after that, forcing the Cardinal into one tough shot after another during a 13-0 run that made it 42-27.

— Palo Alto Online Sports

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