January 22, 2005; 78-70.
That is the date and
score of Stanford’s last road victory in Southern California. While there will
be no Chris Hernandez, Dan Grunfeld, or Matt Haraysz on the floor on Sunday,
February 12, 2012, is arguably Stanford’s best chance at a roadie since the
13-game losing streak began when they take on the USC Trojans.
mainly because the team from Troy is a mere shell of the team they expected to
be coming into this season, and maybe even a fraction of the team they thought
they would be heading into Pac-12 play.
Things were already looking bleak
when Jio Fontan went down in September with a season-ending ACL injury,
sophomore forward Curtis Washington needing surgery in August, and sophomore
forward Evan Smith shut down with a shoulder injury after the loss to
Things began to look even more apocalyptic when Aaron Fuller, the
team’s second-leading scorer at the time, went down for the remainder of the
season with a torn labrum in his left shoulder (suffered during a scrimmage in
the preseason, which is his shooting shoulder) and a slight tear in his right
shoulder during the trip up North against the Bay schools. Add in DeWayne Dedmon’s torn MCL that he suffered against Colorado and this team has been
They have managed to win one conference game, that
being the one immediately after Dedmon’s season-ending MCL tear, a 62-45
shellacking of the Utah Runnin’ Utes.
The Trojans won that game mainly
because of the two key guys who are still healthy- Maurice Jones and Garrett Jackson, both of whom scored 16 points in the victory.
Jones has been the
Ultimate Warrior this year, averaging 38 minutes per game. He is basically to
USC what Landry Fields was to Stanford during the 2009-10 season, except that he
is 12 inches shorter. It’s a mini-miracle that he is able to average 14 points
per game when he is the only guy on the team who can create his own shot. And
even then, at 5’7’’, most of the shots he creates for himself are either long
step-back jumpers or drives to the hoop where he has to finish over multiple
guys who are a foot taller than him. He puts the “volume” into “volume shooter,”
taking 122 more shots than the next highest total of any individual on the team.
Jones isn’t playing selfish basketball; he is simply doing what he has to. If he
doesn’t take those 14 shots per game on average, his team really has no chance
Garrett Jackson, on the other hand, only averages six points
per game on the season, but is giving his team 11 per game ever since he was
inserted into the starting lineup seven games ago. You take a look at his
shooting form and you wouldn’t think he’d be much of a scorer, but he is able to
hit the mid-range jumper consistently enough and is pretty accurate when given
an open 18-footer from the baseline. Overall, he’s a pretty solid player and
won’t make mistakes when he is out there.
That last phrase can be said
about the Trojans overall, too. As bad as they are, they are 23rd in the nation
in fewest turnovers per game at 11.3 and lead the Pac-12 in turnover margin
(+4.3). A lot of that can be attributed to Kevin O’Neill’s
take-the-air-out-of-the-ball style, but at the very least, they are able to get
off a shot attempt.
That’s where the problems arise. It’s tough to win
games when you don’t have shooters, and that’s the dilemma that USC faces this
year. With Nikola Vucevic and Donte Smith no longer on campus and Jio Fontan out
for the season, the Trojans were left with nobody who could really knock down a
perimeter jumper at an efficient enough level. The closest thing to a shooter on
USC right now is Greg Allen, who makes one-third of his three point attempts,
but his 33 percent leads the team.
Unfortunately, the Trojans have had to
rely on the three because James Blasczyk is the only healthy player above
6’7’’. They had a two-game stretch where they hit a combined 16 for 42
from downtown against Utah and Washington State, but have been a combined 4-33
in their two losses to Washington and Cal since.
The Cal game wasn’t on
TV, but I had a chance to watch them play the Huskies. It looked like the
consummate 1-16 March match-up, with USC trying to hold on to respectability for
dear life. And they hung in there for quite a while; Jackson and Jones stole a
couple of inbounds passes that led to easy layups, Byron Wesley took it hard to
the rack relentlessly, and it was a single-digit game in the second half. But
then Washington put the hammer down, finishing the game off with a 31-13
advantage over the final 13 minutes. USC just didn’t have enough capable bodies
to keep pace for 40 minutes.
And Kevin O’Neill knows that fact better
than anyone. He has been perhaps the calmest I have ever seen him this year. He
hasn’t really gone ballistic on his team yet, and he really doesn’t have a
reason to. His guys play hard and play smart. They played Cal very close (this
was with Fuller and Dedmon, however), they only lost at Oregon by three
(with Dedmon) and at Washington State by a touchdown (no Dedmon), but they are
just way too undermanned right now to really put a scare into any team not named
And hopefully that laundry list of teams includes Stanford. The
last time Stanford played a team that had this poor of a record on the road this
late in the season was Oregon back in 2009, and we all know what happened there.
The difference between that game and the one on Sunday is that the Ducks at
least legitimately had multiple dudes that could be problems - Tajuan Porter,
Michael Dunigan, Joevan Catron, and LeKendric Longmire to name a few. At the
very least, Oregon could score. Plus, the Pac-10 was much tougher back then, and
any conference win was a good win.
The same can’t be said for the
Trojans, but Stanford is in the midst of a big slump and hasn’t won down South
in seven years. And for as limited as the Trojans are, they play very solid team
defense and don’t make mistakes on offense. They have the capability of making
it tough on Stanford. Regardless, I’m about as confident as one can be going
into a game having lost five of six and six in a row to the opponent on the
A win on Sunday and the Cardinal pull back into a tie for sixth
A loss… and I might have to seek counseling.
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