Stanford pulls away, beats Arizona State
TEMPE, Ariz. – The way Stanford has struggled on the road the last two seasons, the Cardinal needed some kind of confidence-booster to get a kick start.
A gritty, defensive-oriented win over tough-to-beat Arizona State might just do it.
Josh Owens powered his way to 15 points and 11 rebounds, and Stanford played another solid defensive game to beat Arizona State 55-41 Thursday night and earn a rare Pac-10 road win.
“This was an important win,” Cardinal coach Johnny Dawkins said. “For them to come out on the road in an environment like this and to win, it’ll be good for them. I think they’ll learn from this experience and what it takes to win on the road in the Pac-10.”
Coming off a resounding victory in its Pac-10 home opener, Stanford (9-4, 2-0) was looking to back it up on the road, where it had gone 3-15 the previous two conference seasons.
The Cardinal didn’t shoot particularly well and had to scrap for every inch but prevailed behind a suddenly stiff defense.
Once the weak link, Stanford’s defense has been impressive this season, even with nine newcomers. The Cardinal are holding teams to eight fewer points per game (59.4) than last season and have already held five teams under 50 points after doing it once in Dawkins’ previous two seasons.
“That’s what we want our identity to be,” Owens said. “We really try to pride ourselves on that and in practice, so every game we’re trying to create a defensive masterpiece.”
Playing against a team without its point guard sure helped.
Back in Tempe after playing the fewest home games of any major conference school, the Sun Devils (8-6, 1-2) couldn’t handle Stanford’s defensive pressure with Jamelle McMillan out with a strained groin.
Arizona State was sloppy in the first half (12 turnovers) and couldn’t shoot all night, hitting 35.4 percent from the field and 1 of 14 from 3-point range. The Sun Devils had a late first-half run and closed within four midway through the second half but shot 7 of 26 and missed all nine of their 3-pointers in the final 20 minutes to prevent a full comeback.
Trent Lockett, Ruslan Pateev and Carrick Felix had 10 points each for Arizona State, which scored its fewest points in 36 seasons at Wells Fargo Arena.
“We really rely on (McMillan) heavily, but unfortunately that’s part of the process,” Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said. “We have to focus on the guys who can play, and obviously we really struggled on offense in every possible way.”
Stanford opened the Pac-10 with an impressive victory over California to win its conference opener for the first time since 2006-07. The young Cardinal – no seniors – have won all seven home games but haven’t been very good on the road, winning just one of five before Thursday.
Stanford got off to a good start against the sloppy Sun Devils, going up 21-10 midway through the first half while working the ball inside Arizona State’s zone. Once the Sun Devils closed in around the paint, the Cardinal found it tough to get decent shots, going nearly 7 minutes without a field goal.
Despite the funk, Stanford was able to cling to the lead at halftime and kept Arizona State at bay to open the second half, starting with two big dunks by Owens. Arizona State trimmed an eight-point lead to 45-41 with just under 5 minutes left, but Owens powered his way to an easy basket and the Cardinal stretched the lead behind their defense.
“When we have so many new players, the thing we’ve had to embrace is defense,” Dawkins said. “It’s good to see the kids get rewarded because at times it looked like (in practice) are we ever going to touch the ball on offense.”
Arizona State has been trying to find continuity with its seven newcomers, and a series of injuries and illnesses haven’t helped.
The Sun Devils played without Lockett, their leading scorer, the previous two games due to a sprained left big toe and lost by 22 points Thursday at Oregon State before bouncing back with a 60-55 win over Oregon on New Year’s Day.
Lockett was back in the starting lineup against Stanford, but McMillan wasn’t.
Arizona State was disjointed offensively early without the Pac-10’s assists leader, throwing passes into the stands and Stanford’s bench, driving with nowhere to go and missing shots badly, including an air ball on a 3-pointer and another that hit nothing but backboard.
But after trailing by 11 and scoring just 12 points in the opening 15 minutes, the Sun Devils started to pull it together after hearing a few boos from the upper reaches of Wells Fargo Arena. Working the ball around better offensively and squeezing down on its 2-3 zone, Arizona State went on an 11-0 run to pull within 25-23 by halftime.
The Sun Devils couldn’t get any closer. They took better care of the ball but struggled to get good looks on offense and gave up too many on defense for a disappointing Pac-10 home opener with their point guard on the bench.
“I think it’s a really dangerous road to go down if you start attributing our team’s play to the absence of any one player,” Sendek said. “That’s something we have to be able to better respond to and the guy’s in the lineup have to step up.”