Stanford defeated Washington State 78-67 in its Pac-12 home opener, but the final score didn't tell the whole story. The Cardinal actually trailed by five points midway through the second half before taking command late. Here's five takeaways from the Card's first conference win:
Extended scoring run keys victory: How important was Stanford's 20-4 run in the second half to turn a five-point deficit into a 68-57 lead? It's hard to say that it saved the Cardinal's season, but a loss against Washington State with games again Washington, Cal, and Colorado looming would not have boded well for the year.
"The only way you can get on a run like that is to defend very well," Dawkins said. "We were finally able to get some stops."
Dawkins said that Stanford switched to a zone defense in the middle of the scoring spurt, which helped the team pull away.
"I thought mixing up our defense was kind of good down the stretch," Dawkins said. "I thought going some zone, which I typically won't do, I think it kind of slowed them down a little bit at the end."
Near-perfection from the free throw line: Until Andy Brown's missed a pair of free throws late in the game, Stanford was a staggering 24-24 from the line. The Cardinal has been a decent free throw shooting time all year, hitting 72 percent of their attempts heading into play, but the team was otherworldly tonight. The Card finished 24-26 from the line, a 92.3 percent clip.
Washington State, on the other hand, made only six of its nine attempts, 67 percent.
"We shot the ball well," Dawkins said. "We had been shooting the ball from the line most of the season. The last three or four games we hadn't shot it as well, so I was wondering when we would get back to that again."
Bright lights up Aaron Bright's importance to the success of the Stanford basketball team was never clearer than in last year's NIT run. The Washington native's lights-out shooting and ball movement keyed one of the more explosive offensive stretches in the past few seasons. Bright has been plagued by injuries early this year, but broke out with a 21-point performance against Washington State.
"Like I told him in the locker room I was very happy for him," Dawkins said. "He had a chance not only to have a breakout game, but against a team from his home area. That's always exciting, because everyone is watching that for him and we hadn't had a chance to have that happen in previous years, so I'm really happy for him that he had a really good game against one of the home schools."
Bright still isn't back to full strength from a sprained ankle suffered earlier in the year (Bright estimated that he was "probably at 90, 95 percent".) Stanford hopes that as Bright's health continues to improve, his production will also ascend.
Powell strong all-around: There's no question that Dwight Powell has been Stanford's best player in 2012-2013, and his strong play continued with a solid all-around effort against the Cougars. Powell scored 16 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, blocked four shots, and even chipped in three assists.
"He was terrific," Dawkins. "As we talked about him in the locker room, he was a man tonight. Just really did a good job patrolling the lane, making it difficult for them to score over the top of him. He had a number of assignments. He guarded both bigs, (D.J.) Shelton and (Brock) Motum at times. He did a good job. We ask a lot of him to rebound, to defend, to score. He never blinks. He doesn't mind putting the weight on his shoulders and I'm just really proud of his growth."
Bright joked that Powell's roommate - noted shot-blocker Josh Huestis - has started to rub off on Powell.
"His roommate is Josh Huestis so I would assume he'd start to pick up a thing or two about blocked shots," Bright quipped.
Seven-man rotation: Stanford's expansive playing rotation has garnered significant criticism from fans who claim that it prevents the Card from achieving continuity and fluidity on offense. Tonight, only seven players (Powell, Bright, Brown, Randle, Huestis, Rosco Allen and Stefan Nastic), received notable minutes. John Gage and Christian Sanders also played, bringing the Card's total to nine, but the duo was only on the floor for a combined six minutes of game time.
While Powell, Bright, Brown, Randle and Huestis are generally considered "core" players likely to receive 25-30 minutes of playing time every night, Gage, Sanders, Allen, Nastic, and even players like Robbie Lemons and Gabe Harris have at times made significant contributions to the team. It will be interesting to see if Dawkins' personnel selections were a sign of things to come, or merely designed to match up with Washington State. Of the non-core players, Allen showed some spark (five points on 2-4 shooting), while Nastic struggled mightily, making one of his four field goal attempts and generally appearing lost on the floor.