Mike Lemaire is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report from Sunday’s Stanford-NC State game.
For the first 33 minutes of its game against North Carolina State, Stanford looked nothing like the team that just nine days earlier had led No. 5 Syracuse by six points with less than five minutes to play. The Cardinal committed cheap fouls, they let the Wolfpack take open jump shots, and they allowed CJ Leslie and Ricardo Howell to catch the ball deep in the post for easy baskets. Then, over the next four minutes, Johnny Dawkins’ team played with a renewed sense of urgency. They pressured the ball, fought through screens, were more physical on the low blocks and grabbed every rebound in sight. The result was a defensive effort that proved they are a legitimate contender for the Pac-12 crown.
Entering Sunday’s game, the Cardinal was ranked eighth in the country in defensive efficiency. But with a little more than seven minutes left to play, NC State had opened up a 61-52 lead and Stanford’s defense was the primary guilty party. The Wolfpack shot 55.6% from the field in the first half to lead by four entering halftime, and Mark Gottfried’s team took advantage of Stanford’s flat start to the second half to increase the gap. But by the time the game clock read3:06, Stanford led 64-63 and they looked nothing like the same defense that had been on its heels four minutes earlier. They only forced two turnovers, but the Wolfpack had only mustered three free throws. The Cardinal never trailed again, finishing off a 76-72 win and posting perhaps the best non-conference win they will get all season long.