Friday, November 16, 2007

Men's Basketball @ Northwestern 11/15/2007

Stanford 71 Northwestern 60I got in on Wednesday night (Albert got in Thursday afternoon) and had the whole day to kill before our 8pm tip off on Thursday. It was my first time in Chicago and so I decide to roam around the city. Places of note were the Sears Tower, Chicago Stock Exchange, United Center (home of the Chicago Bulls) and University of Illinois-Chicago. It was a lot of fun exploring Chicago and while it was cold and windy, not as bad as I had expected.

After a pretty exhausting day which involved lots of walking, I ended up on the same train as Albert. We were staying with the sister of a friend from Stanford, who was kind enough to put us up and bear with our obnoxious Stanford apparel (to be fair, besides my 6th man and Brickyard shirts, I own only 1 other long sleeved non-collared shirt).

Thanks to the Bootleg forums, we found a place to get our pre-game dinner (Albert hadn't eaten since breakfast before his 7am flight). The Blue Stone was a bar the size of the former Old Pro on El Camino and we managed to get a pretty reasonably priced dinner. There was a sizable contingent of Stanford fans at the place. This would be a common trend that continued at the game. If I had to guess, I'd say that there had to be over 200 Stanford fans in attendance (including our Athletic Director Bob Bowlsby himself).

We arrived at will call about an hour before tip off, grateful that Andrew Stein (Head of the 6th Man Committee) managed to secure two tickets for us. He's confirmed that we have tickets for the Siena game and hopefully they can keep on coming! The seats were pretty good (front row corner of the second tier), especially in contrast to the Northwestern student section who were right behind the basket. I'm glad that we have such prime position in Maples. I picked up one of the student section handouts and there was a buy one large pizza get one free promotion that lasted till the next home game (Saturday) if Northwestern won.

Fan started trickling in closer to tip-off but it was not a very well attended game. I thought the Stanford fan showing was pretty impressive and it does make sense that lots of alumni settle in the Chicago area or have ties to Northwestern, another premier educational institute. One alum who sat in front of us during the scrimmage a month back recognised us and said hi.

The game started out with us taking a lot of 3s as Northwestern played zone. We we were decently open for most of them and made a couple thanks to lucky bounces, but it would have been nice to see us attack the basket and throw it into Robin who had at least 4 inches on the tallest Northwestern player. I think one telling stat of how we settled for 3s too much was that we didn't shoot a single foul shot in the first half and of our first 19 points, 5 were 3s. On defense, we got burned a couple of times on cuts and could have done a better job pressuring the passer and getting our hands in the passing lanes. We were bailed out of a couple of times thanks to our recovering defense and missed layups. Robin had several monster blocks, one nice alley-oop throw down and seemed to get the ball more as the half progressed. He was a real stud and I don't think we could have won the game without his inside presence. Mitch also had one nice drive to the hoop for a lay-up. Last year, defenders used to play him for the pass whenever he penetrated and it's nice to see him take it to the hole and pull up for jumpers this year.

We finally made it to the foul line in the second half and it looked like we would pull away when a disastrous span of about 4 minutes hit when I began to worry that we'd lose the game. I don't know the exact terminology but Northwestern played an aggressive trapping zone that we countered by not attacking or throwing the ball inside. We must have turned the ball over 4 times in 5 possessions. After Northwestern tied it, Goods finally started being more aggressive and driving (one aspect of his game that has improved). Landry hit some key 3 pointers and had a good offensive showing, save a couple of turnovers and quick shots, which are expected when you have an offensive minded shooter like him (I'd like to see him make his free throws though). We also went inside to Robin and finally put the game away as he went 4-6 from the free throw lines to chants of "Where's your brother?" from the Northwestern student section. They also started an overrated chant which I thought is only used when your team is winning.

As we were leaving, I overheard a Northwestern fan say, "They won because we aren't a very good team". That was true to some extent. Northwestern didn't shoot free throws particularly well or make some layups and were without their star player. We also turned the ball over way too much against their defense and should have capitalised more on our size advantage. At the end of the day though, the season is still young and this was our first game on the road. A win is a win and there were positives. Siena will be a challenge, especially after seeing how they played against Syracuse. Hopefully Lawrence who sprained his ankle but looked much better afterwards, even though he didn't re-enter the game, will be fine. He hasn't looked like his old self this season but I'm sure he'll work hard and break out of his funk. In any case, I'm off to Albany!
~ Zhihao

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