Stanford men’s basketball coach Trent Johnson was prophetic when we talked on Wednesday, saying that “There are nights when we can beat anybody in the country, and there are nights when anybody in the country can beat us.”
On Thursday night, the Cardinal blew a 14-point lead and lost to Arizona State in overtime. Two nights later they almost blew another lead, but hung on to beat Arizona 67-66.
That’s the way it’s been all year for the Cardinal. You’d think that a team that is 10-3 in conference play and 21-4 overall has had smooth sailing, but there have been many bumps in the road.
In great part, this is because its 7-foot twins, Brook and Robin Lopez, are so young. It’s hard realizing that when you look at these man mountains, they’re only 19.
“Obviously, they’ll be much different people when they’re 21,” Johnson said. “Robin is more emotional, but Brook can lose his temper, which is a problem.”
When they were not playing well against cellar-dweller Oregon State, Brook and Robin started yelling at each other at midcourt.
“All I could think was, ‘This is just like two 8-year-olds,’” Johnson said.
Nonetheless, aside from these emotional outbursts, the Lopez twins have been the keys for the Cardinal, who are second in a conference that national observers regard as the toughest in the country. In nonconference games, the Pac-10 Conference is 97-26; even Oregon State, 0-11 in the Pac-10, is 6-6. Even given that some coaches schedule nonconference teams that are easy to beat — hello there, Ben Braun! — that’s an astonishing record.
Stanford is not likely to overtake UCLA for the championship — the two teams meet on March 6 at Pauley Pavilion — but it is certain to be in the NCAA Tournament.
The top teams should benefit from playing such a rigorous conference schedule. Johnson looks at two other factors: Good health, which the Cardinal did not have going into the tournament last season, and better shooting.
But if Stanford goes very far in the tournament, the big men will be the key, with their complementary skills: Brook has a strong offensive game inside while Robin anchors the tough Stanford defense and gets the defensive rebounds.
This may be the twins’ only chance to win the tournament, too. For years under Mike Montgomery, the team’s stars stayed for the full four years before turning pro, but that’s no longer true. The Lopez twins may leave after just two years.
So, it’s imperative that they keep working on their A-game. Stanford can’t afford to go into the tournament with the inconsistent pattern that showed up again last weekend.