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Defense and toughness lifts Stanford to unlikely Sweet 16 status

Mar 23, 2014, 4:45 PM EST

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AP Photo

ST. LOUIS — As Chasson Randle sat at the podium following the Cardinal upset victory over No. 2 seed Kansas on Sunday afternoon, the junior guard, and Stanford’s leading scorer, was asked if he felt motivated by Jayhawk freshmen Andrew Wiggins and Wayne Selden not knowing who he was after the duo was asked about him at Saturday’s pre-game press conference and didn’t know how to respond.

“We definitely saw that video. (Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins) told me not to talk about it,” Randle said as he and his head coach shared a laugh. “But, you know, I definitely took it as a challenge. So did my teammates. It wasn’t just a stab at me, it was a stab at our team. And we took it as a challenge. And it was a little bit extra motivation for today’s game.”

Dawkins and Randle have plenty of reason to smile after Stanford’s win over Kansas on Sunday. Despite shooting 0-for-9 from the three-point line and turning the ball over 16 times against Kansas, Stanford is on its way to an unlikely Sweet 16 appearance against No. 11 seed Dayton in Memphis on Thursday because of the toughness and determination they showed against Kansas on the defensive end of the floor.

MOREKansas loses to No. 10 Stanford | Bill Self’s fifth tourney loss to No. 9 seed or lower

“We beat a very good Kansas team. I could not be any more proud of my guys and how they played for 40 minutes tonight,” Dawkins said. “I thought the energy, the effort, especially on the defensive end, is probably as good as I have seen it all season long. I was really proud of the way our guys stepped up when they made runs and was able to sustain some momentum at the end.”

The Stanford defense was a major reason why the Cardinal are moving on and why they’re a major contender to make the Elite 8. The length of Stanford’s defense gave Kansas issues for the entire game and senior forward Josh Huestis relentlessly shadowed Kansas star freshman forward Andrew Wiggins when Stanford didn’t switch into a 2-3 or, briefly, a 1-3-1 zone. Wiggins finished with four points on 1-for-6 shooting and was limited to single digits in points for only the fifth time this season.

“We wanted to make it difficult for (Wiggins) to do anything. And him being young, we wanted to see if he would work for it after he got a little frustrated and as you saw, he started to defer,” Huestis said. “He only took six shots and scored four points so the coaches gave us a great game plan. He stopped moving as much, he wasn’t looking for his shot nearly as much and wasn’t trying to rebound as much. So we did a great job.”

Kansas head coach Bill Self also acknowledged that Stanford’s overall length presented a major problem for the Jayhawk offense as Kansas was limited to 32 percent shooting (19-for-58) for the game.

“They played better, made more plays, made the most of their inside touches and we struggled scoring over their length,” Self said.

“We definitely spent a lot of time talking about — and preparing for — their bigs,” senior center Dwight Powell said. “And the way they like to attack the rim. Very athletic team. So I guess it was definitely one of our focuses to just be physical and have guys in the lane and be ready to help because they were quick on drives. And make sure we made the proper rotations.”

Powell was also big on the offensive end for Stanford as he went for a team-high 15 points. With the senior center playing well, the Cardinal are a different ballclub and Powell bounced back from an 0-for-8 shooting night against New Mexico in the Round of 64 as he fouled out with only three points and four rebounds.

“Dwight has had an amazing career here for us. He has been one of our leaders. He was one of my first elite recruits. And he’s responded,” Dawkins said. “And so when he had a tough time, you know, I know he is mature enough to bounce back. I know no one was feeling any worse about his performance the other night than Dwight. So what I wanted to tell Dwight is make sure he concentrates on the things he does very well every night and the rest will just happen. And I thought he did that tonight.”

Not many probably expected Stanford to go through St. Louis unbeaten, but for an experienced team like the Cardinal, it’s something they’ve worked towards all season.

“I think every season, something we talk about (is) every season is like a lifetime. Obviously you will have your ups and downs throughout different games and throughout different stretches of games,” Powell said. “But from day one — before we even started preseason — we always had a goal to make the tournament and to make a run. And we never lost sight of that and never lost hope, and we never stopped fighting for that every single game regardless of how things were going.”

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