STANFORD, Calif. - Unbeaten Stanford believes it has the talent to finish opponents off this season — no more letting teams hang around late in games. And if you think the Cardinal are confident now, wait until they get their leading scorers back.
“Now, if we get a team down, we just crush them,” injured forward Josh Childress said.
Stanford already has a win over a No. 1 team and is beating opponents by an average of 11 points, including a 27-point rout of Florida International on Monday. In two weeks, the Cardinal have jumped from 21st in the rankings to No. 9.
And they’re doing it without two key players. Childress, the team’s top returning scorer from last season, hasn’t played yet because of a foot injury, while point guard and leading scorer Chris Hernandez has missed the last two games with back spasms.
“We’re not anything different from last year,” senior forward Justin Davis said. “The year we had playing together prepared us for this year. It’s a good thing when a team can play together without the top scorer in there.”
Stanford still isn’t satisfied. Players said they should have done several things better in the 77-50 win over Florida International, and they know they’ll have to be ready for their next big test: a date with No. 13 Gonzaga on Saturday in the Pete Newell Challenge.
“If I were a fan, I’d be a little displeased,” center Rob Little said. “It’s hard to focus when you have a ranked team this weekend and a school you’ve never heard of before that.”
Stanford got two first-place votes in this week’s poll, one of seven teams to get at least one.
Alone in the tiny weight room at Maples Pavilion, Childress rides the stationary bike while his teammates warm up for games only a few feet away. Aside from some shooting, that’s about all he can do right now.
Stanford’s injured star has been forced to watch his team’s early-season success from the bench as he nurses a stress reaction in his left foot.
“You look around and we have 15 guys who are pretty good,” Childress said. “That’s from hard work over the summer. Everybody was here at some point. That does worlds for team chemistry.”
Childress, who averaged 14.1 points and 8.1 rebounds last season, is expected to return for the start of the Pac-10 season early next month. Hernandez has been battling back problems since he arrived at Stanford last year, but should play against Gonzaga. He is averaging 14 points and 4.5 assists per game, shooting 52 percent from the field and 56 percent from 3-point range and has made 18 straight free throws.
“Josh is our best player and Chris is No. 2,” said guard Matt Lottich, one of the team’s top 3-point threats. “Hopefully we’ll still be able to play team ball once they’re back and it will make us even better.”
Coach Mike Montgomery, in his 18th season at Stanford, gets the most from his players. In Monday night’s win, everyone on the roster contributed.
“They have a first gear, a second gear and a third gear,” Florida International guard Carlos Morban said. “They came out in first gear, we saw the second gear halfway through the first half, and in the second half we saw a third gear.”
The Cardinal finished last season ranked No. 18 and made its ninth straight appearance in the NCAA tournament. However, Stanford lost to Connecticut in the second round, something they don’t want to have happen this season.
“Our biggest thing last year was immaturity,” Little said.
Childress believes that has changed, and knows this could be a special season.
“Everybody knows what it takes to be successful. Last year, we worked hard and were good, but now we know what it takes to win. It’s actually just a mind-set.”
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