Dwight Powell Emerges But Stanford StrugglesPosted by mlemaire on November 10th, 2012
Mike Lemaire is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Friday night’s Stanford-San Francisco game in Oakland.
The season-opening matchup against San Francisco was never supposed to be a game where we would learn whether Stanford‘s basketball team had what it took to get over the hump and make its first NCAA Tournament since 2008. After all, Stanford was the heavy favorite against a USF team that had lost four starters and had watched six players transfer in the offseason. But as the final horn sounded and Stanford left with a 12-point victory, the one thing we did learn is that if Stanford expects to compete for an NCAA Tournament berth, they will need to play better than they did on Friday.The Cardinal opened up multiple large leads in the first half as the Dons struggled mightily to find their rhythm in the early part of the contest. But each time they opened up a large lead, they allowed San Francisco to shoot their way back into the game and at halftime the Cardinal held a very slim 32-31 advantage. In fact, if it hadn’t been for junior forward Dwight Powell decided he couldn’t be stopped in the second half, the Cardinal might have been in trouble.
With the team’s star guards — Aaron Bright and Chasson Randle — on their way to shooting a combined 5-17 from the field for the game, Stanford was quick to recognize the inherent advantage Powell had in the post as the biggest and strongest player on the floor, and they took full advantage. The junior big man dumped in 18 second-half points and finished with a career-high 27 points, even smoothly burying two three-pointers in the process. The frontcourt was a major question mark for coach Johnny Dawkins and the Cardinal coming into the season, and if Powell — who averaged 5.8 points and 4.6 rebounds as a sophomore — can make the leap to becoming an all-conference player, it bodes well for Stanford’s prospects down the line. Powell won’t always have the privilege of playing against a group of vastly undersized underclassmen in every game, but he has great size and strength, strong hands, and intriguing athleticism and ball skills, which make him a player to watch going forward.
Of course Dawkins doesn’t have time to rest on his laurels and think on Powell’s growth as a player because the team has so much to fix going forward. Despite having a distinct size advantage, the Cardinal were out-rebounded 45-29 and more importantly, they allowed 13 offensive rebounds, helping keep the Dons in the game despite their shooting woes and inability to stop Stanford defensively. Dawkins expressed his mild displeasure with his team’s defensive effort after the game and even though they forced 15 turnovers and held the Dons to just 39 percent shooting from the field, San Francisco coach Rex Walters basically confirmed that those stats had as much to do with San Francisco’s struggles as it had to do with Stanford’s defensive effort. “Offensively we were inept,” San Francisco coach Rex Walters said. “Guys were trying to do too much and we got away from what we wanted to do.”
It wouldn’t be fair to pile on the Cardinal without noting the good things they did as well. While the guard tandem of Bright and Randle didn’t jump-start the offense, they did make plays anyway, combining for 10 assists and just three turnovers. They also played smart offensive basketball, especially in the second half when they were content to run their offense through Powell and the perimeter players didn’t force shots. Make no mistake, smart basketball will be a major reason why the Cardinal win basketball games this season because they lack the elite athletes and pure scoring ability that other teams in the conference and the country have. Continuing to take care of the ball and playing efficient offensive basketball will be the Cardinal’s hallmarks this season and if they can do that consistently, they may find themselves dancing in March.
But for now, everyone admits there is a long road ahead of them, and if last night’s performance was any indication, a lot of work left to do while traveling that road.