By Quinn Barry
Ten seconds left. Cardinal up two. Washington State’s Malachi Flynn, who has just torched Stanford with 14 second-half points, brings the ball across the halfcourt as freshman forward KZ Okpala tightly reacts to his every move. “4, 3, 2,” yells the crowd. Flynn dances, and Okpala prematurely retreats into the paint. The guard steps back and fires over the long arms of Okpala. Short.
Stanford men’s basketball (16-13, 10-6 Pac-12) took down Washington State (11-17, 3-13) 86-84 in Maples on Saturday afternoon during Senior Day.
Seniors forward Michael Humphrey (16 points, 11 rebounds) and guard Dorian Pickens (14 points, 2-4 three-pointers) finish victorious in their final home contest.
“It’s easy to say it’s just another game we were playing at Maples,” reflected Humphrey post-game. “But definitely there was some more emotion, probably a little extra energy.”
“Senior night is always special when there are special guys that you are celebrating,” added Stanford head coach Jarod Haase.
“Those two, Michael and Dorian, are as classy as it gets.”
The Cardinal struggled to bury Washington State, despite leading the contest for 32 straight minutes, hearing the 1998 Men’s Final Four team speak at halftime and reveling in the ambiance from Senior Day.
While a lackluster first-half defensive performance kept the game close, the aforementioned two seniors helped expand the Cardinal advantage as time expired.
After a Flynn miss, Humphrey pulled down the rebound with eight seconds on the clock, pitched the rock to a sprinting Pickens, and then trailed the play to find himself wide open behind the three-point line, begging for the ball.
“I was screaming at him,” Humphrey said post game.
Pickens, laughing, interjected, “I was about to shoot it. But I heard Mike yelling at me, so I was like, ‘Alright I’ll kick it to Mike.’”
Their communication paid off, as the 6-9 forward splashed a high-arcing triple to put Stanford ahead 49-40.
The Cardinal rebound (Stanford dominated Washington State 34-22 on the boards) fueled a quick start to the second period. Junior forward Reid Travis led the onslaught with 20 points, many of them easy lay-ups, and 11 rebounds. Okpala, who also scored 20, flew in on three separate occasions for put-back dunks that ignited the home faithful.
But for all the value the Cardinal added with their height, they gave back with a three-point defensive performance reminiscent of pre-conference play. Behind three triples from junior Robert Franks, the Cougars posted an 11-23 mark from downtown, including 57.1 percent three-point shooting in the second half.
Haase remarked on the difficulties of matching up against a shifty, sharpshooting Washington State team. “We couldn’t guard them. We tried five different ball screen coverages and personnel changes. They’re a difficult team to defend.”
Down 10 with 4:47 remaining, the Cougars clawed back into the game, shooting 5-7 and 2-2 from the line as part of a 14-4 run.
But two clutch free throws from freshman guard Daejon Davis, along with Okpala’s tight defense, sealed the game for Stanford.
Haase did not feel worried entrusting the young Davis, who had a quiet eight points and 7 assists, with an isolation play (during which he drew the critical foul) with the game on the line.
“[I] wanted the balls in his hands,” Haase said. “[It] doesn’t matter if its a senior or freshman, this team is unified to have singular goals in mind.”
Their third straight win in a row moves the Cardinal into sole possession of third-place in the Pac-12 after UCLA lost to Colorado on Sunday. The top four squads will receive a bye in the upcoming conference tournament, which kicks off March 7.
The Cardinal will have a chance to get closer to that goal Thursday, when they face No. 14 Arizona. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. and the game will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1.
Contact Quinn Barry at qmbarry ‘at’ stanford.edu.