The Cardinal played another close game against rival Cal, which is last in the Pac-12. Why are the Bears so competitive against Stanford?
King Jemison (KJ): Rivalry games are always weird. Both teams want that “W” just a little more, and there’s an added degree of scrutiny from inside and outside the program. The result is that the favorite ends up playing with a lot more pressure. They’re playing not to lose. Meanwhile, the underdog has nothing to lose. Yes, Stanford has struggled with Cal this season. The comeback that the Cardinal allowed in the Pac-12 opener back in December was inexcusable, but you can always expect these games to be close. The important thing is that this young Stanford team found a way to win a rivalry game on the road despite not playing its best. That’s something to build on.
Jose Saldana (JS): I agree with King that rivalry games are weird, but I think in both instances Cal wanted to win even more than the Cardinal. Stanford’s collapse in December doesn’t happen if the Cardinal were more aggressive. Sunday’s win against the Bears was a bit more encouraging even if the game was close.
Stanford has had trouble on the road. Outside of the game in Washington, the Cardinal have been behind at halftime in every game on the road. Against Cal, Stanford at least led by a point and facing a hostile environment, it was able to get the victory. The Bears had a perfect strategy for the Cardinal. They used a full-court press and a zone defense, both things Stanford has trouble with, to cause a bevy of turnovers. There was a sequence at the end of the second half where the Cardinal could not even get the ball past half court without turning the ball over. Yes, it is frustrating to watch but getting the victory despite the adversity is a small step, but a step nonetheless, in the right direction.
The Washington schools arrive this week for the Cardinal’s final homestand of the season. What does Stanford need to do to ensure victories against both teams?
KJ: Stanford should know the blueprint to beat both teams since they were able to travel up to Washington back in January and pull of an impressive road sweep. For Washington, freshman guard Jaylen Nowell is the star. He leads the Huskies in scoring at 16.3 points per game, good for tenth in the Pac-12. It’ll be up to his former high school teammate, Daejon Davis, to slow him down. Davis should be up to the task. He’s becoming a better and better defender, and he leads the team in Coach Haase’s favorite stat: floor burns. If Stanford can give that kind of effort, they should be able to hold the Huskies’ explosive backcourt in check. For Washington State, it’s all about the threes. They lead the Pac-12 in three-pointers, making 11.3 per game from beyond the arc. The next closest is Utah at 9.3 per contest. Stanford will need to run the Cougars’ cadre of talented shooters off the three-point lane and force them to go inside where they’re not nearly as proficient.
In both games, Stanford should have one major advantage: rebounding. Washington and Washington State are the two worst rebounding teams in the conference. Stanford is the second best. If they can control the glass like usual, they should have a great chance to come out undefeated against the state of Washington.
JS: Stanford has beaten both these teams before and on the road, so it is easy, and admittedly lazy, to say that the Cardinal will sweep the Washington schools again. The Cardinal should have the perfect strategy for Washington State: If Malachi Flynn is hitting threes, put KZ Okpala on him. That was the strategy after the second half in the first game between Stanford and the Cougars in the Palouse, and it worked to perfection. Flynn shot 1-of-8 in the second half after scoring 18 points in the first.
However, the Huskies present a bigger challenge. Getting a victory in Seattle is impressive for any iteration of the Cardinal team. It’s hard to win there and this Washington team is solid (although it was overrated for most of Pac-12 play). While Nowell is a problem, like King mentioned, I think Noah Dickerson is the more dangerous threat. The 6-foot-8 forward is averaging 15 points and 8.3 rebounds. He was shut down for most of the game in the last matchup, thanks in large part to Reid Travis and Michael Humphrey. Limiting Dickerson and turnover will be essential for victory.
Stanford is only one game in the loss column behind the second-place teams in the Pac-12. Do you think Stanford can make up ground to secure a second- or third-seed for the Pac-12 Tournament?
KJ: The Pac-12 is a cluttered mess, and anyone has a chance to win the Best-Team-Not-Named-Arizona participation trophy, including Stanford. To start, they absolutely need to win both games this weekend. They’re currently tied with Washington for fifth in the conference. A win on Thursday would move the Cardinal up one spot immediately. Then, you have to take care of business against the teams you’re supposed to beat, and Washington State is easily the worst team left on the schedule. Plus, Stanford finishes with Arizona and Arizona State on the road. Winning both those games seems nearly impossible, since those are the only two Pac-12 teams currently projected to make the NCAA Tournament. The best the Cardinal can realistically hope for is a split on that southern road trip. Still, I think that Stanford can carry over that momentum from the Cal game to secure a couple wins at home. From there, they’ve proven that they can beat Arizona State and fight to the bitter end with Arizona. I think they win one of those games. That should be good enough to climb into second or third.
JS: The Cardinal can’t really afford any losses if they want to steal the second seed. The Los Angeles schools travel to Utah this week and it’s not hard to envision one or both of them losing to a surging Utes squad. UCLA, USC and Utah all rank above Stanford and it’s asking a lot for each team to take one, two or even three losses to end the year. Additionally, the Cardinal could easily lose to both Arizona schools on the road and Washington. Stanford should be satisfied with a top-half finish, but not after first kicking itself for the losses to Cal and Colorado.
Contact King Jemison at kingj ‘at’ stanford.edu and Jose Saldana at jsaldana ‘at’ stanford.edu.