Stanford is looking less and less like the Pac-12 contender many thought it would be when the season began. And Thursday's 75-54 loss at Colorado, which dropped the Cardinal's conference record to 2-4, may have been a statement that Stanford is already out of the running for a Pac-12 title less than halfway through the conference season.
Certainly Colorado (13-6) is a tough team to beat on the Buffaloes home floor, which is one of the toughest venues in the Pac-12. But UCLA beat the Buffs there, and USC lost by only six points in Boulder. Even Texas Southern took Colorado to two overtimes before losing at Colorado.
Stanford beat Colorado in Boulder last season, clobbering the Buffaloes 74-50 last Feb. 23 in what was probably the Cardinal's best game of the season. But that came during Stanford's late-season surge that carried them to an NIT title and projections that the 2012-2013 season might be a big one for the Cardinal.
The Buffaloes came into Thursday's game with just a 2-4 record in conference play, and the Cardinal's 10-point victory over Cal on Saturday provided hope the Cardinal might be starting another late-season run. Stanford certainly did not expect to get blown out by the Buffaloes - in Boulder or anywhere else.
But Colorado jumped on top early, scoring the first nine points of Thursday's game and never letting the Cardinal think it was in the game.
Stanford (11-8) trailed by 15 at halftime, and after clawing within eight midway through the second half, quickly fell out of contention as the Buffaloes used a 10-2 run to end the Cardinal's hopes.
On the bright side, Chasson Randle continues to shoot well after enduring a shooting slump for much of the season. He was 3-for-6 on three-pointers Thursday and finished with 15 points and six rebounds, but had no assists and three turnovers.
But if the Cardinal is going to move into the top half of the standings, Aaron Bright will have to find his shooting touch. Put into the starting lineup for the second straight game, Bright was just 2-for-8 from the field on Thursday, including 1-for-6 on three pointers, while scoring seven points. He did have seven rebounds, but had just one assist, which means he and Randle, the team's two chief playmakers, had one assist between them. The bigger concern with Bright, though, is his shooting. Over his past three games, he is shooting just 2-for-19 from the field, including 1-for-12 on three-pointers, and over his past seven games, he's 14-for-50, including 5-for-27 from long range. This is from a guy who averaged 11.7 points and hit 43.6 percent of his three-pointers last season. It suggests the ankle injury that sidelined him for four games earlier in the season is having a significant impact on his production.
The Cardinal must hope his ankle improves enough for him to start being a perimeter threat again, which may be the only way Stanford can climb back into NCAA Tournament contention.
The Cardinal desperately needs to win Sunday's game at Utah, which is 1-6 in the conference and coming off a home loss to Cal on Thursday.
There is still time for Stanford make a run at finishing in the top four, because only three teams - UCLA, Oregon and Arizona - seem significantly better than the rest. And even those three are far from intimidating. However, the Cardinal can't afford many more performances like Thursday's, when Stanford shot just 31.3 percent from the floor while allowing the Buffs to hit 52.6 percent of their shots.