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February 15, 2013

Stanford falls short against USC

Stanford made it interesting, but ultimately came up just short of their seventh Pac-12 win of the season. The Cardinal fell 65-64 to visiting USC, though Stanford did have a chance to win on the last possession of the game.

After an anemic first half left Stanford in significant hole, the Cardinal came roaring back late in the second. Dwight Powell made a runner in the lane to trim USC's lead 65-64 with 25.5 seconds left. After Trojan guard Eric Wise missed both free throws following a Stanford foul, the Cardinal took over with 18 seconds left and a chance to win.

Aaron Bright slowly advanced the ball up the floor, and burned even more time handling the ball outside of the three-point circle as the clock ticked down. (Dawkins would say after the game that "I wish he had pushed the ball up the court faster.") When Bright's first option, guard Chasson Randle, was covered, Bright drove past his defender and tried to dish to Powell, but the pass was deflected out of bounds by USC with 1.8 seconds left. A last-ditch three point attempt by Randle from a difficult corner angle rimmed out, and Stanford was handed its second heartbreaking loss to USC of the season

"They play was to get the ball to Chasson and unfortunately (USC guard Jio) Fontan did a really good job of denying him the basketball," said Stanford forward Josh Huestis, who scored a game-high 24 points. "When that option went away for us Aaron decided to look (elsewhere). He couldn't get it to Dwight so he drove into traffic."

The loss dropped Stanford to .500 in conference play (6-6) and 15-10 overall. It also unofficially ended one of the Card's better Pac-12 stretches in Dawkins' tenure, in which Stanford won four of five conference games.

Here's our takeaways from one of the more devastating losses of the past few seasons.

Gage off the mark: Entering the game, John Gage was first in the Pac-12 in three-point shooting percentage at 49.3 percent. Gage has been even better in Pac-12 play, hitting threes at a 63.6 percent clip. But after going 0-4 from three-point range in the first half, Gage didn't receive his first playing time of the second half until there were 41.6 seconds left. Given the fact that Stanford outscored USC 41-30 in the second period, it's hard to quibble too much with Gage's lack of second-half playing time, but with a coach (Dawkins) who, at least lately, has stuck closely to his substitution rotations, it was noteworthy nonetheless.

Late first half struggles: After Huestis and Randle picked up two fouls, and with Powell on the bench resting, Stanford employed a lineup without its top three players. It included Christian Sanders, Andy Brown, Bright, Grant Verhoeven and John Gage. The quintet struggled mightily to find an offensive rhythm, and were in the game as USC's lead grew from two points to double figures.

Free throw woes: Stanford didn't make its first free throw until the 13:48 mark of the second half. For the game, the Cardinal shot only 4-12 from the line, well below its season average of 73.8 percent. Conversely, USC made 18 of its 23 free throw attempts.

"That's something that's really uncharacteristic of us," Huestis said. "We've been shooting the ball from the free throw line well. Guys that usually knock them down weren't able to hit tonight."

Powell and Huestis on an upward trajectory: While certain Stanford players have regressed from last year's NIT Title run, Powell and Huestis have improved by leaps and bounds. Never was that more evident than tonight. Huestis showed a refined shooting stroke to connect on 10 of his 13 field goal attempts, while Powell scored 17 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. If both Powell and Huestis continue to become more consistent jump shooters, they should comprise one of the nation's top frontcourt for the remainder of this season and moving forward.

Next up: Stanford will host UCLA, which is coming off a blowout loss at Cal, at 1:00 p.m. on Saturday. A loss to the Bruins would drop Stanford to 6-7 in conference, and likely eliminate any shot at an at-large selection to the NCAA Tournament, already a slim possibility.

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