The Stanford men's basketball team hit the road this week with an opportunity to improve its standing in the Pac-12 Conference.
The Cardinal (12-11, 5-7 Pac-12) travels to Pullman to meet Washington State on Thursday amid a crowded conference field. After beating then No. 11 Oregon, 76-72, last Saturday, Stanford is separated from first place by 3 1/2 games with six to play.
Stanford could conceivably jump into fifth place, from ninth, after the weekend's schedule has been played out.
That means beating both the Cougars (9-16) and Washington (15-10, 7-6) and having the rest of the schedule play out perfectly. The Cardinal are in Seattle to take on the Huskies at 5 p.m. Saturday.
Stanford can take advantage of the craziness within conference play despite a four-game losing that dropped the Cardinal into 10th place.
"When you have that success, beating the first place team in your conference, it's good for your overall confidence," Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said. "It gives us a little
momentum and something positive going on the road. The guys see what it took to do that."
Against the Ducks, it took a career night from Rosco Allen and a huge contribution off the bench from Dorian Pickens along with several key moments supplied by Christian Sanders, Marcus Sheffield and Michael Humphrey.
Allen matched his career high with 25 points, connecting on 11 of 14 shot attempts, including 4 of 5 from 3-point range. He also led the team in rebounds.
"Rosco is realizing how good he can be," Dawkins said. "He felt the urgency and asserted himself even more. He's finding out who he is. We thought he could be this type of player and he's accomplishing things."
Allen and Sheffield are the only two players who have improved their offensive numbers during conference season. Overall, Allen averages 15.4 points and he's at 16.8 in conference play. Sheffield averages 7.1, 9.9 in Pac-12 play.
Marcus Allen has 20 points combined over his last three games. He had reached double figures in six of his previous seven.
Humphrey, who recorded a game-saving block in the waning moments against Oregon, has been hampered by an injury and is still working himself back into form.
Pickens, a starter in 17 previous games, came off the bench and scored 16 points, sparking a couple of runs.
"There are guys who relish coming off the bench," Dawkins said. "He has the ability to start or come off the bench and have success in both capacities. He's still getting better and he's helped us all season."
Washington State has lost 11 straight, though the Cougars forced overtime in a loss to Colorado last week. Their lone conference win was over UCLA.
"Like a lot of teams in this league, they are better than their record," Dawkins said. "That's a team still competing. They'll be ready."
Stanford also hopes to be ready as it goes for just its second road conference win.
"It's important for us to figure out what to do defensively to win on the road," Dawkins said. "We realized we needed that sense of urgency and we have to practice that way."