Stanford has clinched at least a second-place finish in the Pac-10 despite an unimpressive stretch over the last few weeks.
To win a share of the conference title for the fifth time in 10 seasons, though, the Cardinal will likely need better performances down the stretch.
Eighth-ranked Stanford hosts No. 22 Washington State on Saturday in the first of three tough matchups for the Cardinal to close the regular season.
The Cardinal (23-4, 12-3) have already exceeded their conference win total from each of their first three seasons under coach Trent Johnson. Recently, though, they’ve struggled.
Since losing at Arizona State on Feb. 14, Stanford has managed to defeat its last three opponents - all unranked - by an average of 4.7 points.
“It was nice to win, but we weren’t very good defensively, and I guess I’ve got to take responsibility,” Johnson said after an 82-79 home win over Washington on Thursday.
“This is the third straight game we got out-physicaled, outrebounded. We were just not as active, and that’s what concerns me. We’re excited we won, but we also realize we can play better at this time of the year. (Giving up) 79 points at home - that’s not us.”
That kind of performance likely won’t cut it against the Cougars (22-6, 10-6). Nor does it bode well for the Cardinal’s final two games - on the road against conference-leading UCLA and then at USC, which held Stanford to a season-low 27.0 percent shooting from the field in a narrow Cardinal victory on Jan. 5.
Before that trip, Stanford will try to beat Washington State at home, where the Cardinal are 15-1 this season. UCLA is the only visiting team to win at Maples Pavilion this season.
Washington State could join that elite club now that it appears to have regained its form from earlier this season, when it was ranked as high as No. 4 before a midseason collapse that included three consecutive home losses - one against Stanford.
The Cougars put together one of their best offensive performances of the season as they beat California 70-49 on Thursday for their fifth win in six games since the skid. Washington State shot 53.1 percent from the field, and went 14-for-21 while scoring 39 points in the second half.
“I don’t know how it worked but it felt good,” said senior forward Kyle Weaver, who had 17 points. “We’ve had games where guys have had good games and shot the ball well but as a team everybody it seemed was knocking it down.
“We could have shot it from the stands tonight and it would have went in. It was one of those nights.”
It might be hard to duplicate that performance against Stanford’s defense, which limits opponents to 59.0 points per game - the 10th-best mark in Division I. Washington State, however, is even stingier, holding opponents to 55.3 points per contest - third-fewest in the nation.
The Cougars’ defense wasn’t enough on Feb. 2 in Pullman, Wash. Then-No. 14 Stanford upset then-No. 9 Washington State 67-65 in overtime behind Brook Lopez and Lawrence Hill, who had 18 points and seven rebounds apiece.
Lopez is averaging 22.3 points, 8.0 boards and 2.5 blocked shots in his last four games.
Weaver had 23 points and 11 rebounds in the loss to Stanford - Washington State’s fifth in the last six meetings in the series.