FROM PULLMAN — No matter your age, there always seems to be a little more excitement in the air when school gets canceled. That's what it feels like here, as WSU has canceled Thursday's classes due to inclement weather. We're still working, though, and have some weather-related notes for you, along with our interview with a Stanford beat writer. Read on.
First of all, WSU wants folks to know that Thursday night's game is still very much on schedule. Stanford is scheduled to fly into Spokane tonight and then bus to Pullman. There had been 3,785 non-student tickets sold as of 4:30 this afternoon, and the athletic department quickly put together a “snow day” promotion that allows you to buy a ticket in the lower bowl — any ticket — for $10. So if you're in the area and want to watch some basketball for cheap tomorrow, check out this link.
Our scouting report this week comes from San Jose Mercury News beat writer Elliott Almond, who was gracious enough to stop by and answer five questions about Stanford for us.
1. WSU has struggled to rebound this season. Stanford does it better than any other team in the conference, yet they don’t have any one player with eye-popping rebounding stats. How have they managed to be so consistent there?
Almond: “The coaches emphasize rebounding and defense. In this case they go together well. Stanford has made collective rebounding part of playing defense. Sometimes freshman guard Chasson Randle gets five or more rebounds because that is what is expected of him. Center Josh Owens (6.1 rebounds per game) is one of the better post players in the weak Pac-12 so opponents have to focus on him. But it becomes a difficult task when everyone else is crowding into the paint looking for a rebound. Many also are impressed with sophomore Josh Huestis, a 6-foot-7 forward who plays “long,” using basketball vernacular. He’s a real problem when blocking out. Guys who don’t rebound at Stanford end up sitting more than playing.”
2. The Cardinal are one of the few teams that still has a legitimate chance to earn an NCAA at-large berth. Are folks around there kind of surprised that Stanford has emerged as a carrier of the Pac-12’s last remaining hope?
Almond: “Can we use a stronger descriptor than surprised? Shocked? Disbelieving? The six-member sophomore class seemed to have potential but it was not clear who was going to break out, especially when 6-9 wing Dwight Powell suffered a nagging foot injury. Huestis has been the huge surprise. One big caveat: With a terrible RPI ranking the Cardinal has tons to prove before anyone can consider it to be a serious candidate for an at-large berth to the tournament. The worse the Pac-12 does the less likely Stanford is going to have a chance without going 14-4 – at worst – in the regular season. I’m not sure this team is ready for 14-4, but it already is proving people wrong.”
3. The Cougars recruited Aaron Bright out of high school. Could you give an overview of his progression this season?
Almond: “Aaron shows signs of making big leaps but remains a work in progress. He is generously listed as 5-11. For his height, or lack thereof, he needs to be a much better ballhandler. Sometimes the ball squirts away from him or he makes a sloppy pass, the last thing you want from a starting point guard. Still, Aaron is markedly better than last season. He is way more confident with his outside shot and knows how to break down a defense. Except for the occasions he flubs up, Aaron has command of the Stanford offense and getting the right guys the ball. I expect him to be much better by the end of February than he is now unless there is an injury or something else. By next season he could be the catalyst to a deep team.”
4. Stanford responded well to that four-overtime game against Oregon State. Did they show any signs of fatigue last week because of it?
Almond: “The Cardinal had to play lowly Utah four days after the Oregon State game and it didn’t have its sea legs. It played a miserable game and somehow grinded out a three-point victory over the Utes. Coach Johnny Dawkins acknowledged the effect of the overtime affair had on his team. He also took care to praise Utah for breaking down the Stanford defense but I hadn’t seen the Cardinal give up so much underneath all season. The players lacked energy and there is little question the dramatic victory in Corvallis bothered them. However, they used it as motivation for playing the best game of the season in destroying Colorado. Good teams grind it out. We might look back at that Utah game as an example of that. Talk to me in March.”
5. How would you characterize Stanford’s style of play, and how do you think it matches up against WSU?
Almond: “The Cardinal doesn’t worry too much about matchups. Even Syracuse didn’t seem to bother it too much. The reason is the style it plays. It starts with the first question. Stanford spends all its energy on defending and rebounding. Then it lets the game come to it. It is opportunistic on offense, taking what’s given. The 71-66 home defeat to Butler stands out as a big question. But Butler shot so well that night last month. No matter how bad a team is if it has a great shooting night it will almost certainly win. So, when the Cougs look at matching up against Stanford they need to concern themselves with shooting well. It’s not easy against a defensive-minded team, but it worked for Butler.”