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Stanford looking to clinch a spot in postseason this weekend

 

There's not much time left in the regular season and the Stanford men's basketball team still doesn't know if it will qualify for a postseason tournament.

The Cardinal (13-12, 6-8 Pac-12) can do itself a favor and win twice at home this weekend to all but guarantee itself an extra game or five. The first chance comes Thursday when USC (19-8, 8-6) visits for an 8 p.m. contest. Stanford then hosts UCLA (15-12, 6-8) on Saturday for a 1:30 p.m. tip-off.

It's been anything but business as usual in the conference this season. Every team in the Pac-12 has at least one quality win to go with one or two ugly losses. Stanford, for example, owns wins over three of the top four teams in the conference but lost at home to Oregon State after beating them in Corvallis.

"It's definitely the most even, from top to bottom, our league has been since I've been here," Stanford's leading scorer Rosco Allen said Tuesday. "Even teams with worse records can beat anyone. That's why it's so important to focus on the next game. That's where we have to put all our energy."

Both the Trojans and Bruins are similar to Stanford in that all three teams have at least four players averaging in double figures. USC comes in with six.

"They have a lot of guys who score and we have a lot of guys able to go off," Allen said. "Every team has a couple of guys who are the focal point. USC has more and all of us will have to win over individual match-ups."

The unbalanced schedule also looms large again this weekend. This is the only chance Stanford gets at the Los Angeles schools, making it doubly important for the Cardinal to hold serve and protect the home court.

Stanford will not be making a trip to Los Angeles for the first time in 55 years.

"This is the game you look at to see the separation between teams," Allen said. "When you play a team twice, there's a chance to sweep, split or even go 0-2. We have this one chance and we have to make the most of it."

That didn't happen in Stanford's 64-53 loss to Washington last weekend, though the Cardinal took care of Washington State, 72-56, two days earlier.

"We have to play our game and prioritize who we key on," Cardinal coach Johnny Dawkins said. "We have to slow them down and we need to rise up. We still see an opportunity to play for all the things we set out to accomplish."

Despite being two games under .500 in conference play, Stanford has an outside chance to finish in a fifth-place tie. The top four teams have all clinched a first-round bye in the upcoming conference tournament in Las Vegas.

In a conference where every team has been competitive night in and night out, perhaps seeding is not as important. The Cougars are the only team in the Pac-12 without an overall winning record. They've lost seven games by 10 points or less, twice losing in overtime.

"You still have to win games," Dawkins said. "We need to focus on the task at hand."

Stanford freshman Marcus Sheffield is recovering from an ankle sprain that kept him out of the Huskies game. Travis Reid, on the other hand, was officially declared out for the remainder of the season with a stress reaction in his leg.

"It's a tough loss for us," Dawkins said. "We wanted to make the right decision and get him back at 100 percent. At this stage in the season, it would be better for him to take a medical redshirt."

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