Stanford men look set to open Pac-12 hoop season


First, it was the loss of projected starting point guard Robert Cartwright for the season following a freak injury during practice. Then, Marcus Allen and big man Grant Verhoeven both missed the season opener and Reid Travis has missed the past three games because of an injury.

With the Pac-12 Conference men's basketball opener just ahead, Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins already has used six different starting lineups as he's settled into a rotation.

The first big test comes Friday when Utah (11-2) visits for the conference opener at 6 p.m., to be televised by ESPNU. The Rose Bowl should be decided by then, and the game will be shown on the overhead scoreboard so that early arrivals to Maples won't have to miss anything.

As for basketball, sophomore Dorian Pickens said it's time "to send a message."

Pickens is one of many bright spots for the Cardinal and he's been playing better every time out. When Travis went down, Pickens stepped up in the same manner Christian Sanders stepped in earlier in the season when Cartwright's situation became known.

"What do you do to get through adversity? We've faced quite a bit of it," Dawkins said. "You say 'who's next? Who steps up?' Of course we're always going to miss Reid but guys have stepped up. When Reid gets back, we'll be a better team for it. The loss of Robert early on hurt and we've been able to work through that. Guys are finding their roles."

Pickens scored 18 points, one of four players to reach double figures, on Sunday and Stanford downed visiting NAIA Carroll College, 83-38, in the final nonconference game of the season.

The Cardinal (7-4) has won five of its past six as it heads into a Pac-12 season that promises to be competitive. Every team in the conference owns a winning record.

"The conference had a great preseason and every team seems to have a good marquee win," Dawkins said. "This may be the best start for the conference. Utah is playing with a lot of confidence. We have to play well."

The Utes, who beat Duke in overtime two weeks ago, will be playing just their second true road game of the season. They lost at Wichita State.

Jacob Poeltl, a two-time conference Player of the Week already, leads Utah with an 18.0 scoring average.

Colorado (11-2) also visits this weekend, playing Sunday at 7 p.m. The Buffaloes, who just had an 11-game winning streak end, are at California on Friday.

Women's basketball

Stanford is knocking on the door of the top 10 in the latest AP Top 25 women's basketball poll. A month ago that would not have seemed possible. Yet, as the nonconference season unfolded, the Cardinal just kept getting better.

Monday night's 73-30 victory over visiting Chattanooga helped stamp Stanford a legitimate title contender in the Pac-12 Conference. The 11th-ranked Cardinal (10-2) gets tested right away with a visit to Arizona and No. 17 Arizona State this weekend.

Stanford was swept in the desert last season, its first winless conference weekend since 2008.

The Sun Devils also defeated the Cardinal in Maples Pavilion, becoming the first conference team to sweep Stanford in the regular season since UCLA did so in 1987-88.

The Cardinal opens the conference season Saturday in Tucson. By the time Stanford arrives in Tempe to take on Arizona State on Monday night, it could very well be ranked in the top 10, where the Cardinal opened the season.

It's taken a concentrated effort from many players to produce such an improvement and Stanford is only going to get better.

It starts with Erica McCall, who scored 18 points, had eight rebounds and blocked four shots against the Lady Mocs.

McCall was a steady player last year but was not the focal point. After a tremendous summer with the USA World University Games team that came home with a gold medal, McCall returned to school full of confidence and leadership qualities.

On a team without seniors in the regular rotation, McCall has taken charge. She shows it on the court with her eight double-doubles through the first 12 games.

Lili Thompson leads Stanford in scoring with 17 points a game and moving forward, look for Briana Roberson, Karlie Samuelson and Alanna Smith to help carry the load.

The emergence of both Kaylee Johnson and Kailee Johnson, no relation, also will prove valuable. Kailee Johnson entered the starting lineup when Kaylee Johnson struggled a couple of weeks ago. Kailee has held her own, allowing Kaylee to come off the bench. Kaylee has been nothing less than a spark plug since assuming her new role. She's averaging about 10 points a game over the past four games and has made 16 of her past 19 shots.

She's also grabbing about seven rebounds a game. Johnson opened the year averaging 1.1 points and 4.5 rebounds while shooting 22.2 percent from the floor.

"I just needed to work hard in practice and stick to it," Johnson said. "I have to focus and keep improving."

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