Monday, January 29, 2007

Stanford Offense Has Howland Seeing Cardinal

For about 18 minutes, it looked like UCLA was going to exorcise their demons at Maples Pavilion. But then Stanford reminded the Bruins faithful that horror films always have sequels. After allowing 46 points in the entire game against Cal on Thursday, UCLA's defense surrendered 50 points to Stanford in the second half alone, and the Bruins once again left Palo Alto with a defeat. For all the progress Ben Howland has made with the UCLA program, winning at Stanford has proven to be a difficult task. Steve Lavin routinely lost at Maples (including the worst loss in UCLA history), and now Ben Howland is 1-3 at Stanford.

I'm not sure what it is about Maples Pavilion that makes it so difficult for UCLA to play their best basketball. Maybe it's the taunting of the 6th man that gets to them (although they have been much tamer of late than in recent years). Maybe the Bruins' players become disconcerted by what are annually the least attractive cheerleaders in the Pac-10. Or maybe UCLA is cursed. In 1996, Jim Harrick allegedly violated NCAA rules by having too many active players at a dinner with two prized recruits who were all set to sign with UCLA. Harrick then falsified expense reports in an effort to cover up the violation. UCLA administrators seized these violations as an opportunity to fire Harrick. With Harrick gone and a NCAA investigation looming, the two recruits- Jason and Jarron Collins- turned down UCLA and elected to attend Stanford instead. From that point forward, road trips to Stanford have brought the Bruins nothing but trouble.

Now sure, there were actual basketball reasons for the Stanford victory Sunday night. The Cardinal played with greater intensity in the second half. The officials were not allowing UCLA to play their physical brand of defense, leading to a 33-15 free throw discrepancy. Lawrence Hill caught fire and seemingly everything he tossed up found a way into the basket. A saner man might point to any of those observations as reasons why Stanford prevailed. But as for me, I choose to blame a beady eyed coach for being careless during a lobster dinner.

If UCLA fans want to find a silver lining, here's all I have to offer. After the Cardinal victory, Stanford students stormed the court in celebration. In UCLA's only other loss this season, Oregon fans also stormed the court when the final horn sounded. Generally speaking, storming the court is only reserved for victories over an elite program. Whether they're really in the same tier as Florida and North Carolina yet is debatable, but the Bruins are once again storm-worthy.

As for Stanford, after victories over UCLA and USC, they should be the next participant in the Pac-10 roulette of teams in the top 25. If they do enter the top 25, they'll become the 7th Pac-10 team to be ranked at some point during the season. Of course, Dick Vitale still considers the Pac-10 to only be the third best conference in the country, behind the ACC and SEC.

Here was another gem from Vitale during the first half of the Michigan State at Ohio State game, in which Vitale was watching Oden for maybe the third time this season:
"I tell you one thing, Dan. This is the first time I've really seen evidence of (Oden) being an effective offensive player. In fact...I think he's ahead of Patrick Ewing at the same stage, offensively." How does that work? First you imply that up to that point you'd never seen any evidence of him being good offensively, and then after he hits a few jump hooks, he's ahead of Patrick Ewing? Wouldn't that mean that during Patrick Ewing's freshman year, he never gave any indication of being an effective offensive player? Even for Vitale, that's insane. Ewing, by the way, averaged 12.7 points and shot 63% from the field his freshman year. I guess Vitale was just turning a blind eye to the facts.

Finally, I've been informed that as a sports blogger, it's my obligation to post some sort of Power Poll. But it's getting late, so I'll just post a top 5:

1. Florida. In coast mode until the tournament begins.
2. North Carolina. Forget Hansbrough- that freshman class can fly.
3. Wisconsin. Great defense and Alando Tucker is one of the best creators in the country.
4. UCLA. If UCLA is going to return to the Final Four, Darren Collison needs to step up his play.
5. Ohio State. Inconsistency on offense is the only thing holding them back, which is ridiculous since all they need to do is consistently put the ball in the hands of Oden.

Knocking on the door: Kansas, Oregon, Texas.

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At Mon Jan 29, 11:02:00 AM PST , Anonymous Sanchez said...

I agree with your rankings (just).

But I am not comfortable discussing your 'power pole' at all.

At Mon Jan 29, 11:04:00 AM PST , Blogger insomniac said...

At least I didn't attach a picture.

At Mon Jan 29, 10:51:00 PM PST , Blogger Mini Me said...

I am loving this parity. No dominant team, anyone of those 5 can win it this year.

At Tue Jan 30, 09:16:00 AM PST , Anonymous Sanchez said...

lol :)


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