Marcio Jose Sanchez/APGuard Chasson Randle leads Stanford in scoring at 18.7 points per game and is shooting 43.4 percent from 3-point range. Pac-12 play begins Thursday.

Stanford hitting its stride as Pac-12 opener against Cal nears

With the Pac-12 Conference men's basketball opener looming on Thursday, Stanford shouldn't have any problem getting amped up for it.

After wrapping up its nonconference schedule Sunday with a 79-62 thumping of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Stanford (9-3) hosts rival Cal (9-4) to kick things off.

Stanford has rolled out the same starting five for each of its games, which has helped the Cardinal's solid start to the season. Junior point guard Chasson Randle shook off his rough sophomore season and has started the season off hot, averaging a team-high 18.7 points a game, while shooting 51 percent from the field.

“He had a tough sophomore year and he wanted to bounce back from that,” said Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins, who is in his sixth year at Stanford. “He had a chance to tryout for the USA basketball team, and he was the last cut, which I really think helped motivate him that much more.”

Randle hasn't done it alone this year as 6-foot-11 center Dwight Powell has provided Stanford with plenty of muscle in the paint. The senior is averaging 7.7 rebounds per game, while adding 14.7 points, but most impressively has been a de facto facilitator, averaging a team-high 4.2 assists.

“It's by design,” Dawkins said. “We've changed our offense from what we were doing the past few years, and we have guards who like to attack, so we wanted to put the ball in Powell's hands more because he's been good at finding guys.”

Despite giving up 112 points to BYU in the second game of the season, Stanford has tightened things up defensively, forcing opponents to shoot 39 percent from the floor.

Stanford has seemed to turn the corner, as it upset then-No. 10 UConn in Hartford, Conn., on

Dec. 18 and gave Big Ten Conference power Michigan all it could handle in a 68-65 loss in Brooklyn, N.Y.

“We were very disappointed in our outing [against BYU], and our guys went back to practice with a new focus and a new commitment to what we needed to do on the defensive end of the court,” Dawkins said.

Cal, fresh off a 90-60 rout of Furman on Saturday, is battling some key injuries. Junior guard Ricky Kreklow broke his right hand during a practice before Christmas and will be out anywhere from four to six weeks, and Jabari Bird, a freshman guard out of Salesian High School in Richmond who averages 11.9 points a game, suffered a sprained ankle in the Bears' 68-54 loss at Creighton on Dec. 22. It is unknown whether Bird will suit up Thursday.

Still, Cal will have senior point guard Justin Cobb in its lineup. The two-time All-Pac-12 selection leads the Golden Bears in scoring (14.2 points per game) and assists (5.6 per game).

“Cal is a very good team, they have an experienced frontline, and a very experienced point guard who is one of the best guards in the conference,” Dawkins said.

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