Stanford, USC snag big wins as Pac-12 race gets tougher
STANFORD, Calif. -- It was raining threes at Maples as upsets poured in around the Pac-12 on Wednesday night.
On a relatively quiet night in hoops for most of the country, things heated up out west in unexpected fashion. USC jumped out to a big lead before eventually holding on in overtime against crosstown rival UCLA. Stanford controlled from the opening tip and thumped No. 10 Oregon 76-52 behind eight three-pointers on a night where the only thing that didn't go in were a couple of free throws.
"This is a great win," Stanford forward Dwight Powell said after capturing a double-double against the Ducks. "They've proven themselves and we're still in the process of proving ourselves."
The victory pushed the Cardinal above the .500 mark in the Pac-12 standings and kept the glimmer of an NCAA tournament berth alive after a disappointing start to the season in conference. With back-to-back blowout wins, the game could be a turning point for a team still figuring out what identity it wants to take.
Only time will tell, of course, but if Wednesday was any indication things are looking up on The Farm.
"They have a ton of talent on that team and I think our kids just really rose to the occasion," coach Johnny Dawkins said. "Two guys in particular really helped us in Dwight and Josh Huestis. Not only did they score, they made plays - blocking shots, their activity in the paint - and were difference makers for us tonight."
Huestis added 14 points and 13 rebounds and was part of a defensive effort that limited Oregon to 34-percent shooting on the night. It was the first time in five years Stanford captured a win against a top 10 team at home, and things were over well before halftime.
"You can't forget your formula. There's a formula for success and we're in the process of becoming (successful)," Dawkins said. "We're doing some things that are very good for our team. Our ball movement has been good, our spacing has been very good, and we have to continue to do those things."
It’s a long season. Things can’t - and won’t - go perfectly for anyone in college hoops. Oregon, without guard Dominic Artis, faces its first real stretch of adversity in conference play. They hit a wall against Stanford. The Ducks had four assists and 21 turnovers Wednesday. Combined with a paltry defensive effort, it's not hard to see why they were finally exposed a little bit by a hungry Cardinal team.
Oregon snuck into the top 10 in the rankings thanks to an impressive road win at UCLA (ending the Bruins’ double-digit win streak) and plenty of help from upsets around the country. They’ll slide back down the polls as Dana Altman figures things out during the Bay Area swing, confident he is in command of a good - but not yet great - squad that is still learning how to play together with yet another lineup tweak.
It's not easy for anyone to keep the record perfect in conference play, something the Ducks came to understand Wednesday night.
It's not easy on a nightly basis either, something UCLA came to find out as Reggie Miller's jersey was retired at halftime. The Bruins mounted a comeback to force overtime but couldn't do enough against the new-look Trojans who, under interim head coach Bob Cantu, are looking more and more like the team that most thought could be a dark horse to make some noise in the Pac-12 this year.
After last year's malaise on the court, things have improved markedly league-wide for Pac-12 hoops. It's a test night after night, as a hot shot Oregon team came to find out. UCLA, after capturing a big win at Arizona, suddenly is a team searching for answers in the middle of a two game slide.
"I hope they think we're a tough bunch," Cardinal guard Chasson Randle, who had a game-high 17 points, said after the win.
It was a statement most will accept about Stanford after Wednesday's triumph. It also sums up the Pac-12 in general this year where every night is starting to turn into a battle on the hard court.