By Jose Saldana
In the previous battles against Cal this season, Stanford men’s basketball (18-14) faced tough games against the last-place team in the conference.
But on Wednesday in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament, the fifth-seeded Cardinal took care of business against the twelfth-seeded Bears (8-24), defeating their Bay Area rivals 76-58 in the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
The Cardinal employed a total team effort, but, as per usual this season, senior forward Reid Travis was the fulcrum of a balanced squad. He set the tone as the gameplan was to feed him early.
Travis dropped 19 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in 27 minutes.
“[Travis] is always going to be a focal point of the defense, for good reason, because he’s a focal point of our offense as well,” Stanford head coach Jerod Haase said. “When he gets going, it certainly draws attention to him. When that happens, it kind of frees some of the other guys up as well.”
“A big emphasis for me is playing with the motor and just trying to get us started the right way when we start the game,” Travis said. ”So the more I can do that, the more guys got to start helping down and trying to make the right reads, the right passes.”
Senior guard Dorian Pickens played like a man who felt snubbed from the All-Pac-12 Second Team. Every made three seemed to drip anger towards his honorable mention status. Pickens finished with 16 points and made four-of-nine three point shots.
However, the numbers on defense really popped out. Cal shot 28.2 percent from the field and Marcus Lee, Justice Sueing and Don Coleman combined to shoot four-of-26.
Freshman Daejon Davis and KZ Okpala both were major contributors. Okpala put the clamps down on Coleman, holding him to 0-8 shooting and Davis pushed the ball to get easier points for himself or his teammates.
Off the bench, freshman Oscar Da Silva (nine points and eight rebounds) and junior Josh Sharma (12 points) both added meaningful minutes.
The Cardinal come out of the gates as if their heads were on fire. Travis scored eight points in the first four minutes of the game, and Stanford forced four Bears turnovers and Davis pushed the tempo.
Stanford erupted to a 13-4 start, but two three-pointers and a made a free throw cut the lead to 15-11. The Cardinal went on 9-2 run with meaningful contributions from senior guard Robert Cartwright and Sharma.
The lead began to seesaw between 10 and seven points as Cal’s Darius McNeill kept hitting three after three, eventually cutting the lead to 34-28. But Stanford countered with a run of its own as Pickens hit a two-point jumpshot, and Oscar Da Silva hit his second three to stretch the lead to 11 points with a minute left in the half.
The remaining minute featured three turnovers, including a puzzling 10-second violation by Davis.
It seemed the Cardinal were going to run away with it in the first half as Travis and Pickens combined for 23 in the half, but McNeill’s 19 first-half points kept the Bears from completely slipping away. Outside of McNeill, Cal was getting very little from its other players including Cardinal killers Lee and Sueing.
Harris-Dyson started off the second half well for Cal, scoring seven points in four minutes, but Davis and the Cardinal were aggressive on defensive rebounds. Threes from Pickens and seven points from Davis increased the lead to 49-35.
Then, Travis took over. He scored six points and grabbed five rebounds in the next four minutes to help stretch the Cardinal’s lead to 63-38. Sharma then went on a personal six point run, including two alley-oops and one of which was a reverse jam.
“That, honestly, might have been the best alley-oop we had all season,” Sharma said.
Davis then dunked it emphatically to give Stanford a 26-point lead with 8:17 remaining in the second half.
Up 72-47, Coach Haase took the remaining starters out as garbage time ensued. Sophomore forward Kodye Pugh added the exclamation point with an athletic putback dunk that might have bent the rim.
Fourth-seeded UCLA awaits the Cardinal in the second round of the Pac-12 Tournament.. Stanford is 1-1 against the Bruins this season, which includes a dramatic comeback victory in Maples. However, Stanford was blasted 89-73 in the second game as Bruins Aaron Holiday, Kris Wilkes and Prince Ali combined for 55 points and 7-of-10 on made threes.
“[UCLA have] guys, one through seven, that I think is the most talented team in the conference,” Stanford assistant coach Jesse Pruit said. “They got firepower. At the end of the day, we got to strap it up and defend.”
The California rivals square off March 8 at 2:30 p.m. PT in T-Mobile Arena. The game will be broadcast by the Pac-12 Networks.
Contact Jose Saldana at jsaldana ‘at’ stanford.edu.