March 24, 2008

Stanford Defense Contains, Dale, Wittman, Cornell Offense at NCAA Tournament

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — With 13:40 left in the first half and Stanford leading 11-4, sophomore Ryan Wittman finally freed himself at the top of the key, and more than a yard behind the line, fired up a 3-pointer with a defender coming at him. Hitting the floor from contact in time to watch the shot fall in, Wittman hurried back on defense, not knowing it would be his only made shot of the half.
Wittman, Cornell’s leading scorer (15.4 points per game) and 3-point shooter (46.6 percent, 76 total for the year), was held to two field goals for the game, shooting 2-of-7 from behind the arc. As Cornell’s most dangerous shooter, he received the most attention from Stanford’s defense, but his struggles were a microcosm of the team’s offensive struggles and Stanford’s defensive dominance.
“That was the plan, to make sure we made him work for everything regardless of who was on him during the course of the game,” said Stanford head coach Trent Johnson, following his team’s 77-53 win over Cornell in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
“They have [a] great defensive team, probably one of the best defensive teams we’ve played all year,” Wittman said.[img_assist|nid=28938|title=Facing the Pressure|desc=Sophomore Ryan Wittman struggled to find his scoring touch with little room to shoot during Cornell’s first round NCAA loss, 77-53, to Stanford on Thursday in Anaheim, Calif.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Cornell, the only team in the nation ranked among the top-10 in field-goal, 3-point and free-throw percentages, was held to a season-low 55 points. Sophomore Louis Dale, the Ivy League Player of the Year, didn’t make a single shot in the first half, and was the team’s leading scorer for the game despite sinking only one-quarter of his field goals.
Together, Dale and Wittman accounted for nearly half of the Red’s attempts, and made only 22 percent of them. As the team field-goal percentage indicates, however, it wasn’t merely Dale and Wittman who struggled to make baskets: the Red shot a season-low 15.4 percent from the floor in the first half, and an equally poor 30.5 percent for the game.[img_assist|nid=28946|title=Gut Reaction|desc=Cornell head coach Steve Donahue (left) and sophomores Louis Dale and Ryan Wittman (right) react during post-game interviews to Cornell’s 77-53 loss to Stanford on Thurs.|link=node|align=right|width=|height=0]
“I think in the first half, they came out and really guarded us, made it tough on us, and I thought we missed some shots we normally make,” said Cornell head coach Steve Donahue. “I said this to Coach Johnson, his kids play this style, it’s almost a brand. It’s Stanford basketball: no matter who [they] are going against, they’re not going to allow you to beat [them] with your better players. They get physical with you.”
“I think they’re a very good defensive team,” Dale said. “They’re very physical in the perimeter. … So, you had to work hard to get past the perimeter defenders, and then there’s two 7-footers there waiting to block your shot.”
The Cardinal’s defense shut down the Red outside and inside. Aside from holding Cornell to 8-of-26 on 3-pointers, Stanford blocked seven shots and grabbed 34 defensive rebounds, limiting the Red to 16 points in the paint and four second-chance points.
The Cardinal came into the contest ranked top-20 nationally in rebounding margin (fifth), points per game allowed (19th) and field-goal percentage allowed (20th).
Junior Jeff Foote, Cornell’s 7-0 center, was held to 1-for-6 shooting and four offensive rebounds — three on one play — and fouled out with 8:16 left in the contest. Senior forward Jason Hartford was 0-for-5 and had only two rebounds. Sophomore Alex Tyler was the Red’s most effective offensive post player, scoring 10 points on 3-of-7 shooting, but also turning the ball over four times.[img_assist|nid=28947|title=Silent Times|desc=Although noisy for much of the game, the Cornell section of the crowd was left silent at times as it watched Stanford’s lead expand beyond 20 points for a majority of the contest. |link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
In contrast, Stanford’s 7-foot forward Robin Lopez dominated down low on both ends of the floor, scored 14 points on 7-of-9 shooting, blocking five shots and grabbing four rebounds, in only 23 minutes. Lawrence Hill had 10 rebounds off the bench in 16 minutes, and Taj Finger had eight rebounds in 18 minutes. Pac-10 first-team honoree Brook Lopez, the team’s highly touted inside force, played only 15 minutes as a result of Stanford’s inside presence.
“It was a little difficult for us to block out and they are a great rebounding team,” Wittman said.
Donahue noted that a number of his regulars are sophomore-eligible, and have time to develop and adapt to stronger, more athletic teams in the NCAA.
“I would have loved them to have a better effort. … But I think they understand that this was a very good basketball team that we faced,” Donahue said of his players. “This is their first experience, not just for the experience thing, but strength. As we get older and tougher and bigger, we’ll play better next time when we’re here. I’m positive of that.”