If there were any doubts headed into the Pac-12 tournament that the Stanford Cardinal deserve a spot in this season’s field of 68, the Cardinal took it upon themselves Thursday night to not only dispose of those doubts but bury them in a landfill as well. A stalwart performance at both ends of the hardwood propelled the Cardinal to a 79-58 rout over the Arizona State Sun Devils, improving the Cardinal to 21-11 on the season headed into Friday night’s tournament semifinal showdown with the UCLA Bruins.
The Cardinal rocketed to an early 9-0 lead at the MGM Grand Garden Arena and never trailed. Four out of five starters finished in double figures, junior guard Chasson Randle led all scorers with 21 points, senior forward Dwight Powell poured in 15 of his own and the team shot 54.9 percent overall for the game, including 8-for-18 from three-point territory.
Defensively, the Cardinal were stellar, limiting the Sun Devils to only 40 percent shooting and holding standout Jahii Carson scoreless the entire first half. Carson showed signs of life after halftime, but the conference’s fourth leading scorer finished with a mere 10 points on 4-for-13 shooting. Carson’s backcourt partner Jermaine Marshall, who often picks up the slack when Carson is rendered a non-factor, managed only four points. Sun Devils center Jordan Bachynski was held to only five shot attempts in the paint, and he missed four of them. Although the Sun Devils managed to pull within three points at halftime due to sharp outside shooting from a few of their reserves, the Cardinal didn’t allow the Sun Devils to string anything together in the second half and outscored them 49-31 to put the game away.
Sixth-year head coach Johnny Dawkins knows a thing or two about winning big games. Under the tutelage of coaching legend Mike Krzyzewski, Dawkins became the Duke Blue Devils‘ all-time leading scorer during his college years, a record he held until 2006. After nine seasons in the NBA, Dawkins returned to his alma mater in 1998 and spent a decade as an assistant coach under Krzyzewski before migrating westward to Palo Alto. Despite leading the Cardinal to the NIT championship two years ago, Dawkins has never taken them to the big dance, and his teams have never finished higher than sixth in the Pac-12.
However, that was then; this is now. The Cardinal probably played well enough during the regular season to merit a true March Madness experience, but after pummeling a highly-skilled Sun Devils team on a night they needed to ensure they had the selection committee’s attention, Dawkins’ squad now has its NCAA tournament invite in the bag.