Only two weeks ago Stanford had lost three straight and needed a victory over Utah to avoid endangering its NCAA tournament hopes and putting coach Johnny Dawkins' job into jeopardy.
Now Dawkins is the toast of Palo Alto, and the Cardinal are in the Sweet 16 for the first time in six years.
Thanks to an aggressive zone defense designed to protect the paint and an array of long, athletic defenders who contested shots at the rim, Stanford held Kansas to its lowest scoring output of the season and turned Andrew Wiggins into the world's most athletic spot-up shooter. The result was a stunning 60-57 victory that ended Kansas' season before future lottery pick Joel Embiid could return from his back injury and earned the Cardinal a trip to Memphis where they will face 11th-seeded Dayton in the Sweet 16.
Stanford's win will ease the frustration of the first five years of Dawkins' tenure when the Cardinal missed the NCAA tournament five straight times after making it 13 of the previous 14 years. Athletic director Bernard Muir set a high bar for Dawkins entering year six, telling the San Jose Mercury News last March that he wants Stanford "to play well into March on the grand stage of March Madness" and "there's a clear expectation that we can do that next year."
It sometimes seemed Stanford wouldn't live up to that standard during a 12-loss season that included as many ugly losses as big wins, but the Cardinal have played their best basketball in March. They secured their NCAA bid with Pac-12 tournament victories against Washington State and Arizona State last week in Las Vegas, upset Mountain West tournament champ New Mexico in the opening round of the NCAA tournament on Friday and notched their biggest NCAA tournament upset in program history on Sunday.
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The key to Stanford's victory was Kansas' inability to attack the paint against the Cardinal's 1-3-1 or 2-3 zones. Kansas could not get the ball to the high post for the majority of the game, committing 14 turnovers, shooting 32.8 percent from the field and struggling to shoot over the outstretched arms of the Stanford front line even when it did get to the rim.
Andrew Wiggins in particular was a non-factor. The potential future No. 1 pick in next June's draft finished with four points on 1-of-6 from the field. Most of his shots were jumpers, a product both of his lack of aggressiveness off the dribble and Bill Self allowing him to roam the perimeter rather than putting him in the high post where he could attack the zone's soft middle.
Kansas might not have even been close at the end were it not for a full-court press that capitalized on Stanford's lack of ball handlers with reserve guards Aaron Bright and Christan Sanders both lost for the season due to injury. Time and time again in the final five minutes, Stanford struggled to get the ball inbounded and get it safely across mid-court, but the Cardinal played stingy enough defense not to allow Kansas to set its defense often enough.
The last chance for Kansas came via seldom-used freshman Conner Frankamp, who sank a pair of threes in the final minute to trim a seven-point deficit to two and give the Jayhawks one final chance after Anthony Brown split a pair of free throws with 12 seconds to go. Alas, for Kansas, Frankamp's final attempt from behind the arc was well-contested and missed the mark, sealing the Stanford victory.
The most exciting part for Stanford is that its draw is now favorable to the Elite Eight.
A matchup of double-digit seeds awaits against No. 11 Dayton. The winner will almost certainly be the most unlikely team still playing next weekend.
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