Stanford did just fine without center Brook Lopez in its lineup for the first nine games this season. That, however, had more to do with the level of competition than his importance to the team.
Lopez and the No. 20 Cardinal hope to strengthen their hold on a place in the rankings on Saturday afternoon when they play archrival California in the first of three straight road games.
A loss to Oregon on Jan. 13 contributed to Stanford (15-3, 4-2 Pac-10) dropping out of the rankings, but the Cardinal moved back in this week following a sweep of the Arizona schools, capped by a 67-52 victory over then-No. 22 Arizona State last Saturday.
“We played the second half,” Cardinal coach Trent Johnson said. “We struggled in the first half but we turned it up a notch and dominated the glass.”
Stanford has not played since that game as Lopez keyed the victory, scoring 19 points and grabbing a career-high 16 rebounds after missing nine of his first 10 shots. The 7-foot sophomore scored every point during a 10-0 second-half run that gave the Cardinal a 50-42 lead with 6:10 remaining.
“I had to get back in the game. I was playing soft,” Lopez said. ” … I had to attack the glass and get more physical.”
Stanford won eight of its first nine games this season without Lopez, who was academically ineligible for the fall quarter. Only two of those games came against teams which currently have winning records, and only two were against teams from major conferences.
The Cardinal already have faced three ranked teams in conference play and will face one more next week as they visit Washington and No. 6 Washington State.
Lopez, who scored 20 points in his season debut Dec. 19 in a win over Santa Clara, is averaging team highs of 17.3 points and 8.3 rebounds while adding 1.7 blocks per game to rank second on the Cardinal behind twin brother Robin (2.1).
Brook Lopez, an All-Pac-10 freshman last season, is considered to be among the top centers in the nation and a potential lottery pick should he declare for the NBA draft.
The imposing Lopez brothers are a big reason why Stanford has been so good defensively. The Cardinal rank second in the Pac-10 in scoring defense (56.4 ppg) and opponents’ field-goal percentage (38.7), limiting 13 of their 18 opponents to 60 points or less.
“They’re holding teams to 38 percent shooting and they’re doing it against some of the top teams in the country,” California coach Ben Braun said. “And look at their points allowed - holding teams in the mid-50s. (Teams are) getting worn down because they’re physical.”
Stanford junior guard Anthony Goods rebounded from two disappointing games with 14 points against Arizona State. The team’s second-leading scorer (12.3), Goods scored a combined 13 points on 4-for-21 shooting in his previous two contests.
This will be the final contest on a three-game homestand for California (11-6, 2-4), which has lost the first two and four of five overall.
This could easily be a matchup of ranked teams because the Golden Bears have either been ahead, tied or within two points in the final three minutes in five of their six losses.
“We’ve got to do a better job of utilizing possessions, cutting down on turnovers and getting some stops more consistently. That’s what we’re really missing now, is to get a series of stops,” Braun said.
Ryan Anderson continued his torrid scoring with 30 points on 10-of-13 from the field in a 79-75 loss to Arizona last Saturday.
Anderson leads the Pac-10 in scoring (21.9) and is fourth in rebounding (9.8).
These teams split last season’s series, each winning on the road. Stanford has won 17 of the last 21 meetings, including seven of 10 on the road.