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February 21, 2007

Brook Lopez hitting his stride

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Stanford's Brook Lopez can attest to the benefits of delayed gratification.

He missed the preseason and the first five games of the 2006-07 campaign while recovering from back surgery. Now that he has improved his conditioning, Lopez has entered his name in the discussion of top freshman big men in the country.

Lopez picked up the first triple-double in Stanford history with an 18-point, 11-rebound, 12-block performance against USC on Jan. 25.

He followed that with a career-high 26 points and nine rebounds Saturday in Stanford's 88-69 win over then-No. 15 Oregon. Earlier in the week, he scored 20 points and added seven boards in a 70-55 win over Oregon State on Thursday.

"I guess I'm kind of lucky. I haven't played as many games, so I'm still kind of fresh," Lopez said. "It was a matter of getting back into basketball shape."

Stanford is glad Lopez is surging in January and February. The Cardinal (17-8, 9-5) is right in the thick of the Pac-10 race. Stanford is poised for a berth in the NCAA Tournament after a first-round exit in the NIT last year. Lopez's scoring touch also helped Stanford rebound after losing three of four going into the games against Oregon and Oregon State.

For his efforts, Rivals.com named the 7-foot forward its National Freshman of the Week.

It has been the perfect time for a breakout week from Lopez. Starting guard Anthony Goods, the Cardinal's second-leading scorer, missed the last two games with a sprained ankle and will likely be out until the Pac-10 tournament.

With Goods out of the lineup, Oregon's starting guards - Aaron Brooks and Tajuan Porter - combined for 45 points. Although Lopez's production has spiked during Goods' absence, the freshman said he doesn't have any extra pressure to pick up the slack. Lopez cited the contributions of bench players Kenny Brown and Mitch Johnson.

"We definitely missed Anthony these last two games," Lopez said. "But I don't feel much of a load at all."

Goods has been important to Stanford's surprise season, but it has been the frontcourt that has created mismatches for opponents. Lawrence Hill is Stanford's leading scorer. He is joined up front by Lopez and his twin, Robin.

Oregon had hoped to run at Stanford during their matchup in Palo Alto on Saturday, but the Cardinal kept up with the Ducks. On the offensive side, Brook Lopez showed he is finding his rhythm on the floor, shooting 18 of 34 from the field against the Oregon schools.

"He's impressed me with his offensive repertoire," Stanford coach Trent Johnson said before the Oregon and Oregon State games. "He's made some plays as a 7-footer where you go, 'Oh, wow.' You'd think he was 6-5."

Lopez's height has made him and Robin one of the toughest inside tandems in the conference. Robin and Brook are ranked first and second in the Pac-10 in blocks per game.

The combination has helped energize the Stanford campus for the final weeks of basketball season.

"(People around campus) are constantly reminding me about winning the Pac-10 or going to the tournament," Lopez said. "There's always people buzzing in your ear."

Also nominated for National Freshman of the Week were:

Freshman of the Week
Players named Rivals.com National Freshman of the Week from the 2006-2007 season.
Jan. 1-7: Kevin Durant, Texas
Jan. 8-14: Kevin Durant, Texas
Jan. 15-21: Scottie Reynolds, Villanova
Jan. 22-28: Brook Lopez, Stanford
Jan. 29-Feb. 4: Kevin Durant, Texas
Feb. 5-11: Brandan Wright, North Carolina
• Ohio State center Greg Oden. He scored 15 points with 10 rebounds and four blocks in a 64-62 win over Penn State on Wednesday. He had 19 points and nine rebounds in an 85-67 win over Minnesota on Saturday.

• Ohio State guard Mike Conley Jr. had 10 assists, five steals and six points in the win over Minnesota.

• Texas forward Kevin Durant added two more double-doubles to his season total. Durant scored 20 points with 14 rebounds in a 68-67 win over Baylor on Saturday after scoring 21 points with 12 boards in an 83-54 win over Oklahoma State on Monday.

• Michigan State forward Raymar Morgan scored 16 points with four steals in an 81-49 win over Iowa on Saturday. He added 18 points in a 59-44 win over Michigan on Tuesday.

• Connecticut guard Jerome Dyson had a career-high 27 points in a 73-63 loss to Syracuse on Saturday. He finished with 22 points Wednesday in a 67-55 win over Seton Hall.

• Washington center Spencer Hawes had 12 points and 12 rebounds in a 65-61 loss to Pittsburgh on Saturday. Hawes had 22 points and five rebounds in a 65-61 loss to Washington State on Wednesday.

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