For a moment, finally, it was the best of times for Stanford basketball, and there was no converse.
And they're going to the NCAA tournament because of it.
With a 79-58 blowout of Arizona State in the Pac-12 tournament on Wednesday, Johnny Dawkins and his squad of upperclassmen finally achieved that one last necessary win to vault them firmly into the Big Dance. It was, quite simply, a cathartic ass-kicking that almost singlehandedly washed away the last six years of poor execution and missed opportunities.
Dawkins himself said it was one of the best efforts they've had all season - but I'd go so far as to say it is perhaps the best all-around game Stanford basketball has played in several years. Given the circumstances, I'd also say it was the single most important win of Johnny Dawkins' coaching career. Backing into the tournament would have left him hanging on that thin ice he'd been perched on for more than a year now. Now his sixth season on the sideline speaks for itself.
The normally destructive Jahii Carson was never a factor, going 4-13 from the floor, while Chasson Randle and Dwight Powell once again provided the 1-2 scoring punch that Stanford so desperately needs to be successful. An efficient performance from Josh Huestis was just the cherry on top of the blowout.
On a night when a several bubble teams let games slip through their grasp - Cal and Arkansas come to mind - the Cardinal took the game in hand from the opening tip and followed it up by pouring it on in the second half. Stanford didn't let their chance to seize the moment slip away.
Now UCLA and a chance at the Pac-12 championship are ahead, and if Stanford wins a semi-decent tournament seed is up for grabs instead of the 8 or 9 seed they seem locked into at the moment. Stanford did take down the Bruins the last time the two met (and 83-74 win at Maples), mostly thanks to a playbook that looked similar to last night: 26 from Randle and an off-the-mark night for guard Kyle Anderson, who managed only 6 points.
A repeat of that on Friday in Las Vegas, and the Cardinal could have a shot at a Pac-12 title and climb a little further toward returning the program to past heights.
But one way or another, Thursday will go down as the night that Dawkins and the Cardinal finally broke loose. And it was just as pleasant as I expected it to be.