Stanford led for 39 minutes, much of it by double figures, en route to a 73-62 opening round victory over Utah.
The Cardinal put together a commanding performance. Per barttorvik.com, they played a 97th percentile forty minutes and held an average lead of 8 points. It was one of their most complete games of the season.
It took them all of eight minutes to take a double digit lead, after an Isa Silva layup put the Cardinal up 18-7. They used a balanced attack to pick apart the Utes defense and get quality looks on nearly every possession.
“I think they don't really pressure the ball that much,” said Harrison Ingram. “If we get shots up every possession it's going to be hard to beat us.”
Stanford’s offense very nearly did just that. Through the game’s first twenty minutes, they committed a single turnover, coming on an errant outlet pass. They tallied just four turnovers over the entire game.
“[There’s] an understanding that if we play for each other and share the basketball and play our hearts out on the defensive end you never know,” said Jerod Haase.
Utah trimmed the early Stanford lead to just two points at the seven minute mark. That was as close as they would get, before Spencer Jones went on a personal 7-0 run.
Saddled with foul trouble late in the first half, Jerod Haase opted to stretch his rotation a bit. Jarvis Moss made a rare appearance with 76 seconds on the clock, after playing only 44 minutes all season. He made an excellent play off the dribble for a diving Maxime Raynaud, who paid off the feed with a pair of foul shots. James Keefe logged a short stint defensively, too.
The Cardinal took a 34-27 lead into the half, with 22 of those Ute points coming from just two players: Branden Carlson and Gabe Madsen. Stanford did a good job of contesting at the rim, and forced them to become a jump shooting team.
The second half saw Stanford methodically build upon the lead, pushing it out a point or two every few minutes. It swelled to as much as 15. The largest run either team pieced together in the final 20 minutes was 5-0, but the Cardinal were in a position to trade baskets. They stayed aggressive and piled on more points in the paint.
“Anytime I get a big switch on to me I used to settle for a step-back three or dribble dribble and just not really get anything,” said Harrison Ingram. “But Coach has talked to me about going downhill and I just kept attacking and they really couldn't stop it.”
Harrison finished the game with 15 points on 10 shot attempts, relentlessly creating quality looks in isolation. He attempted a single three point shot, as he stayed in attack mode and forced his way into the paint.
Brandon Angel led the way with 16 points and a career-high 12 rebounds. It was his first double-double of the season, and second of his career. He emphasized that he was disappointed in his recent rebounding effort, and wanted to prioritize making the 50/50 plays. He did plenty of that tonight, and drew 7 fouls on Utah players.
The Cardinal finished with 17 assists against just 4 turnovers. They held a 38-24 advantage in the paint and 15-9 edge in transition. Joining Ingram and Angel in double figures were Maxime Raynaud and Spencer Jones with 12 apiece. Spencer had a scary moment where it seems he re-aggravated an injury to his left hand, but he ultimately checked back in. Max Murrell tallied three blocked shots off the bench.
Stanford shot just 5-16 from three, which was a point of price for Utah coach Craig Smith. But the Cardinal would gladly trade that for the parade to the basket they enjoyed.
Branden Carlson led Utah with 27 points and 10 rebounds in 28 minutes of action.
Craig Smith credited Stanford’s late season improvement on shortening their rotation, switching 1 to 5 on ball screens, and knocking down shots. He says they made a philosophy change mid-season, and have continued to get better as they’ve stuck with it.
The Cardinal will not celebrate for too long, as they draw a formidable opponent tomorrow in 8th ranked Arizona. They defeated them in Maples last month.
“I think the thing everyone saw is how hard we competed in that first Arizona game,” said Angel. “We were flying around on defense and we really took the game plan personally to protect the paint. Obviously the stakes are even higher this time. So anything less than a hundred percent is unacceptable tomorrow.”
If they play like they have been, anything is possible for this Stanford team.