Saving Grace At
In what has been
a wildly erratic Pac-10 season-preseason favorites Arizona and Washington have
both lost three in a row and are now fifth and sixth, respectively, in the
conference-Stanford (12-7) is becoming one of the league's rare success
stories. The Cardinal lost four of its first six games (including one to UC
Davis) to start the season, but at week's end it had won eight of its last nine
(and five straight) to improve to 8-3 in conference play, and was tied with Cal
for second place, one game behind UCLA. According to fifth-year senior guard
Chris Hernandez, the Cardinal's early woes stemmed mainly from poor execution
on offense and "everyone not being on the same page at the same time."
But, he adds, "we've worked through that, and we've gotten better. That's
why we've been successful the last few weeks."
Matt Haryasz, a
6'11", 230-pound senior center, is the team's leading scorer (18.5 points a
game) and rebounder (9.3), and he has been dominant in the paint during Pac-10
play, but Hernandez has been the hero of the last three games. He hit three
free throws at the end of regulation to tie the game in an eventual 76-67
overtime win against Washington on Jan. 29; he nailed a three-pointer with 11.3
seconds left to beat Oregon 57-56 last Thursday; and last Saturday he scored 22
of his 28 points in the second half of a 71-64 win at Oregon State, an
especially clutch performance since Haryasz was out of the game after getting
poked in the eye in the first half. "I'm just doing what I can to help the
team win," says the 6'2" Hernandez, who is playing out of position on
the wing this year to accommodate freshman point guard Mitch Johnson. "We
all know we can't afford to lose because of how we started the season. Every
game is do-or-die time for us."
The road to a
12th straight NCAA berth for Stanford gets treacherous this week. On Thursday
the Cardinal is scheduled to visit Cal, which has won four straight, and on
Saturday, Stanford will square off against No. 5 Gonzaga and player of the year
candidate Adam Morrison in Spokane. Although some claim that Stanford needs a
win to save face for the Pac-10, which has performed badly out of conference
this year, Hernandez doesn't agree. "We're not going to change the
perception of the Pac-10 with one game," he says. "Right now all we're
worried about is winning every game we can."
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