While stingy defense was enough to earn a season-opening win against San Diego, the Stanford men’s basketball team knew it would take a much-improved offensive effort to defeat a tough nonconference opponent.
The Cardinal responded by unleashing its arsenal of three-point shooters against Virginia on Thursday night, winning 81-60 in a game that saw a combined 47 attempts from outside the arc.
Stanford (2-0) was led by junior guard Jeremy Green, who overcame a disastrous season opener against San Diego by scoring 21 points, a mark that led five Cardinal players in double figures. Green was 8-for-13 from the floor, including 5-for-9 from deep.
“I feel like tonight I was just a little more patient and let the game come to me,” Green said. “My teammates stepped up and helped me through it.”
“He’s a three-point specialist,” added Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins.
Freshman guard Aaron Bright was also solid from distance, making all four of his three-point attempts to finish with 12 points. In just his second collegiate game, Bright was visibly more comfortable and confident than in his debut.
“I’ve always had confidence in myself,” Bright said. “It definitely felt good though, I’m not going to lie. It feels good to have that barrier lifted.”
Junior forward Andrew Zimmerman and freshman forward Anthony Brown hit two triples apiece for Stanford, which finished the day 13-for-23 beyond the arc.
However, it was not always easy going for the Card, which took its time finding an offensive rhythm.
Stanford started the game in an offensive funk, forcing Green to take the scoring load upon his shoulders. With limited off-ball movement and off-balance jumpers, the Cardinal fell into a 13-7 hole just six minutes after tipoff.
Virginia (2-1) came out firing from the perimeter, beginning with two straight shots from distance by senior guard Mustapha Farrakhan and freshman guard Joe Harris. The Cardinal was slow in switching off of screens, yielding open looks from the perimeter with Virginia’s quick passing around the arc.
“Give Virginia a lot of credit. They shot lights out,” Dawkins said. “Sixty percent from twos, 55 percent from the three-point line–they were really executing very well.”
However, the Cavaliers failed to capitalize on Stanford’s sluggish start and kept the Card in the game by committing several turnovers in succession. At one point, Virginia head coach Tony Bennett was left shaking his head after his team committed its fifth travel of the half.
Stanford was led in the first half by Green, who shook off a poor outing on Monday night with 10 points in the first period, including a string of three-pointers and off-balance jumpers.
Bright also joined the distance party, hitting three triples of his own in the opening period–including a tie-breaking three in transition as time expired–to finish the half with nine points. Bright served as the team’s primary ball handler for the majority of the half, with Dawkins electing to play turnover-prone junior guard Jarrett Mann off the ball.
Stanford entered the break leading 37-34, overcoming an impressive 60 percent first-half shooting performance by the Cavaliers with a 57.7 percent rate of its own.
The Cardinal’s offensive momentum carried over into the start of the second half with a quick 5-0 run behind two buckets and a free throw from junior forward Josh Owens, who was limited in the first half after picking up two quick fouls.
A Bennett timeout sparked the Cavaliers as Harris hit three straight attempts from beyond the arc and single-handedly brought his team back within a point.
Stanford responded once again, this time with Brown. Brown sank two threes from opposite wings in succession, sending Maples Pavilion into a frenzy and giving the Cardinal an eight-point lead.
Dawkins was again pleased, but cautiously optimistic with the performance of Brown, Bright and the rest of the freshman class.
“It’s a process,” Dawkins said. “Both kids gave us a big lift off the bench. These kids are freshmen, and they are going to have their ups and downs. I’m glad they had their ups tonight. If they continue to work as hard as they’ve been working, they’ll continue to see improvement.
The three-point barrage continued for Stanford, as Bright, Zimmermann and Green each took turns hitting from range. Freshman forward Dwight Powell tacked on a hard-earned layup to extend the lead to 64-50.
Zimmermann followed by doing his best LeBron James impression, thunderously blocking a layup attempt from behind, which led into a transition bucket for Brown. A Harris miss at the other end was rebounded by Brown, who went coast-to-coast for a layup plus the foul, extending Stanford’s lead to 69-50 and putting the game effectively out of reach.
The second half was highlighted by an 18-3 run by Stanford that saw all 18 points come as a result of three-pointers.
Farrakhan led the way for Virginia with 14 points, but did so on 4-for-10 shooting. The Cavaliers were unable to bounce back as glimpses of momentum were instantly shut down by 18 total turnovers. The Cardinal’s perimeter defense improved dramatically as the game wore on, with Virginia shooting just 29.6 percent from the floor in the second half.
Bright said Green played a big role in the team’s defensive resurgence.
“They were shooting really well in the first half,” Bright said. “[Green] got on all of us for defense.”
The Cardinal has now forced 38 turnovers in just two games, and although it’s still early, the team looks like a force to be reckoned with on both ends of the floor.
Stanford will suit up next against Arkansas Pine-Bluff. The Sunday game at Maples will end the Card’s three-game homestand before the team embarks on a trip to Anaheim for the 76 Classic.
Tipoff for this Sunday’s game is scheduled for 5 p.m.