GAME NOTES: Sunday's third-round action of the NCAA Tournament will tip off at the Scottrade Center when the 10th-seeded Stanford Cardinal take on the second-seeded Kansas Jayhawks.
Stanford battled through a physical affair with seventh-seeded New Mexico in the second round on Friday and held on down the stretch to pull off the upset, 58-53. The Cardinal are 22-12 this season and won their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2008, a year in which they advanced to the Sweet 16.
Kansas (25-9) suffered a major scare against No. 15 seed Eastern Kentucky in its first matchup of the tournament as it trailed by three with under nine minutes to play, but turned things on late in the contest to capture the 11- point victory. The Jayhawks have now advanced to the Round of 32 for the 29th time in the last 31 years.
The Jayhawks own an 8-2 advantage over Stanford in the all-time series, although the Cardinal won the most recent meeting in December of 2003 on a neutral floor.
The Cardinal opened up a lead as large as 14 in the first half against New Mexico only to allow the Lobos to come back and tie the game midway through the second stanza. They responded however, with seven unanswered points to claim the victory. The team shot just 38.8 percent from the field but held New Mexico to an even worse 36.5 percent shooting. Chasson Randle paced the winning effort with 23 points on 3-of-6 from 3-point range and 6-of-6 at the foul line. Anthony Brown and Stefan Nastic poured in 10 points apiece.
Stanford has very few discernable weaknesses, as it shoots 46.2 percent from the field, 37.5 percent from 3-point range and 70.3 percent at the foul line for while boasting positive margins in terms of scoring (+4.9), rebounding (+1.8) and turnovers (+0.2). Randle, a First Team All-Pac 12 selection, scores 18.9 ppg on greater than 48 percent field-goal efficiency. Dwight Powell (13.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 3.2 apg) and Josh Huestis (11.3 ppg, 8.2 rpg, 1.9 bpg) make up an imposing duo in the frontcourt, while Brown adds 12.6 ppg and 5.0 rpg to the mix while knocking down 3-pointers at a 45.6 percent clip.
The Jayhawks may have been sluggish for most of their first tournament contest but managed to turn things around before it was too late by ending the game on a 27-13 run to take the 11-point victory. They shot a blistering 60.4 percent from the field (but 0-of-7 from 3-point range), dominated the rebounding battle, 43-19, and outscored EKU in the paint, 54-20. Andrew Wiggins continued his late-season surge with 19 points, while Jamari Traylor stepped up in the absence of Joel Embiid with career highs in points (17) and rebounds (14). Perry Ellis also had a double-double with 14 points and 13 boards and Tarik Black and Conner Frankamp netted 12 and 10 points, respectively.
Kansas has grown accustomed to highly-efficient offensive performances, as it ranks in the top-10 nationally in field-goal percentage (.498) for 79.6 ppg, which has been more than enough to support a modest defensive presence (70.4 ppg). The Jayhawks will be shorthanded once again in this matchup as Embiid (11.2 ppg, 8.1 rpg, 2.6 bpg) continues to rest his injured back, but the squad still has plenty of talent to rely on. Wiggins (17.4 ppg) has come into his own in recent weeks by averaging 28.0 ppg over the last four tilts. Ellis (13.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg) is strong in the paint, while Wayne Selden Jr. (10.2 ppg) and Naadir Tharpe (8.6 ppg, 5.1 apg) have been stellar as well.
Kansas is clearly vulnerable in the absence of Embiid and is far from a lock against a well-round Stanford squad, but if the Jayhawks can continue to get solid bench contributions from the likes of Traylor and Frankamp, and Wiggins plays at the elite levels he's been performing at since the calendar turned to March, expect KU to soldier on to the Sweet 16.
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