ST. LOUIS--Stanford played like it had been there before.
The Cardinal hadn't, but in their 58-53 win over New Mexico, they looked, if not quite impressive, then certainly like a team that deserved another game, another chance. They'll get one, and for the first time since the Lopez twins towered over their teammates, Stanford will keep dancing.
The game began with a simple narrative: The Cardinal could shoot; the Lobos could not. Stanford made its first six shots while New Mexico missed seven straight at one point. Many of the Lobos' possessions ended in embarrassment, including when Kendall Williams's air-balled a three-point attempt. By the time the Cardinal finally missed -- more than four minutes into the game -- their lead had swelled to 16-4.
It was as one-sided as one-sided comes, even if New Mexico did narrow the gap to 32-27 by halftime. Stanford -- a No. 10 seed to the Lobos' No. 7 -- appeared the better team despite the fact that not one of its players had come close to sniffing the tournament during his college career until this season.
That's right: Not only did Cardinal coach Johnny Dawkins likely save his job by earning a tournament berth for the first time since he took over in Palo Alto in 2009, but he also led his team to a win -- and a chance to win again on Sunday.
Give this to the Lobos, though: After their slow start, they managed to tie the game at 45 midway through the second half, and they hung with Stanford through the game's final minutes. But the Cardinal's Chasson Randle, who led his team with 23 points, hit a three-pointer for a 48-45 lead with just under nine minutes left. New Mexico never got closer than that the rest of the way, scoring just two points over the next seven-plus minutes.
Cameron Bairstow, the Lobos' senior forward, scored 24 of his team's 53 points. Not only was he the only New Mexico player to score in the first six minutes of the game, but he also powered his team the rest of the way. Not a single other Lobos player scored more than 10 points.
Dawkins' team may not have much of a March resume, but on Friday, it got a crash course in the Madness. It learned to lead, it learned to hold on and it learned what it feels like to advance.
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