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February 23, 2005

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Palo Alto Online

Publication Date: Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Hernandez is driving Stanford hopes Hernandez is driving Stanford hopes (February 23, 2005)

His career-high 37 points against UCLA moves Cardinal closer to an NCAA berth

by Rick Eymer

Every game remaining on the Stanford men's basketball schedule has postseason implications. After dealing with adversity through most of the season, the Cardinal lack any margin for error.

Chris Hernandez, who knows all about dealing with injuries, playing in pain and playing through a team's shortcomings, is the perfect leader as Stanford continues its quest for an 11th straight appearance in the NCAA tournament.

Thanks to Hernandez's 37 points in Stanford's 78-65 victory over UCLA on Sunday, the Stanford men's basketball team can breathe just a tad easier as it prepares to meet host Oregon State on Thursday at 7 p.m.

"Sometimes he's so unselfish I have to tell him to shoot a little bit," Stanford coach Trent Johnson said. "It was sort of comical coming out of a second half timeout we designed a play for Chris to come off a screen and he said 'so you want me to throw it into Taj (Finger)?' I said, 'no, I want you to shoot it.' He just scored 22 points in the first half. I believe in giving trust to a kid like Chris who understands the game so well."

The Cardinal (9-5, 15-9) strengthened their grip on third place in the Pac-10, a spot which has meant a berth in the NCAA tournament the past 16 years, with four games remaining.

"Every win from here on out gets us one step closer," Hernandez said. "Next week we have to do it again. We don't have the luxury of letting one go. Third place, realistically, is the highest place we can finish and we need to shoot for that."

The Cardinal hold a two-game lead over UCLA in the loss column, and have a three-game advantage over Oregon State and Arizona State. Stanford remains two games back of second-place Washington.

"We still have to go to Oregon State," Johnson said. "This was a good win for us but if we don't take care of business at Oregon State, it's all out the window. We can will all four games left, or we could lose all four games left. I'd rather not go to Gill (Coliseum) myself. Oregon State is really talented."

Hernandez did his part against the Bruins, scoring more points in a game by a Stanford player since Casey Jacobsen had 41 against Oregon in a 90-87 overtime victory in February of 2002.

"You don't have these games all the time," Hernandez said. "It was a special day. I felt energized throughout the game. I got some open looks and let it go. When I drove a couple of times, first to the left and the next time to the right, and finished both times that's a good sign."

Fred Washington continued his impressive play, scoring 12 points, grabbing eight rebounds and recording seven steals. He had a career-high 22 points in Stanford's 71-62 victory over USC on Thursday.

Against UCLA, Stanford led by as many as 22 points heading into the game's final eight games. The Bruins rallied to within 67-57 less than four minutes later. That's as close as they would come as Hernandez - who else? - hit a jumper and then made a pair of free throws to give Stanford some breathing room.

"It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know Chris Hernandez is our best player right now," Johnson said. "We wanted the ball in his hands as much as possible. Thirty-seven points is impressive and that's Chris Hernandez."

Matt Haryasz added 12 points and nine rebounds, and Nick Robinson had 11.

Washington has been a pleasant surprise for Stanford in his first two collegiate starts. Coming off the bench, Washington often looked overwhelmed and impatient. That caused him to play a little out of control.

Now that he's starting, Washington has shown he can fit into the system.

"His energy level has always been good," Johnson said. "We've had a lot of guys who have gone down this year and there's always somebody who has stepped up. Some people thought Fred played like he had something to prove but he was just playing basketball. He's a pretty good player in the open court."

Against USC, Washington scored the game's first points on a dunk that electrified the crowd and served notice he'd do more than take up space on the court.

Haryasz recorded his seventh double-double with 11 rebounds and a career-high 23 points, including his first career 3-pointer.

Stanford is 9-1 at home this season and has won 33 of the past 35 games at Maples.

Washington was in the lineup because Dan Grunfeld tore the ACL in his right knee in the second half against California.

"Fred has got a lot of talent, a lot of things he's been hiding," Hernandez said. "He put them on display. He's starting to get a lot more confidence."

Haryasz is averaging 16.6 points and 10.9 rebounds over his past nine games. His seven double-doubles rank him second behind Arizona State's Ike Diogu in the Pac-10.

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