By Jose Saldana
Throughout the college basketball season, Stanford men’s basketball (18-15) went through an amazing turnaround from a 6-7 nonconference record to a three-way tie for the third seed in the Pac-12. The development of the freshmen and the return of senior guard Dorian Pickens helped herald this change.
But a couple of things remained constant throughout the year: A propensity for back-breaking turnovers and UCLA’s Aaron Holiday erupting against the Cardinal defense.
Those constants didn’t change on Thursday afternoon.
The fourth-seeded UCLA Bruins (21-10) dominated the fifth-seeded Cardinal 88-77 in the second round of the Pac-12 Tournament on the strength of Holiday’s 34 points and eight assists in T-Mobile Arena.
With the loss, Stanford is eliminated from the tournament and will have to wait until Selection Sunday (March 11) to find out if it makes a postseason tournament.
Holiday was gold from the opening tip as he shot 12-25 from the field, shot 5-9 from beyond the arc and grabbed seven rebounds. In three against the Cardinal, he averaged 42.3 minutes (college games are 40 minutes long) and 28.7 points per game.
“[UCLA is] an elite-level shooting team with arguably the best point guard in the country,” Stanford head coach Jerod Haase said. “And [Holiday] played like that today.”
Aside from Holiday, the Bruins turned the Cardinal over 14 times and were +8 in points off turnovers. Stanford has had a problem with turnovers all season and it was something the Cardinal couldn’t afford to do against a talented UCLA team.
“I’m not quite sure if there’s one answer for it,” senior forward Reid Travis said of the early turnovers. “I think guys had their heads in the right place. We were trying to make the right plays. Probably just moving a little too fast. I think we really just calmed down into the game, and that helped us start to take care of the ball more.”
On offense, the Cardinal got another double-double effort from senior forward Reid Travis. Travis scored 17 points and hauled in 14 rebounds.
Freshman guard Daejon Davis was in foul trouble for most of the game as he played 22 minutes despite being the most effective Stanford player on the court. He finished with 13 points on 5-6 shooting.
Fellow freshman KZ Okpala scored a career-high 23 points and was aggressive in the paint, drawing 13 foul shots and making 10. He also added seven rebounds, five assists and three steals.
“I just try to help us win,” Okpala said. “Some days it’s scoring, some days it’s defense. Just play my role. So, yeah, today was more of an offensive game for me, mainly because [Davis] wasn’t on the floor. So just trying to attack.”
The other Bruin that hurt the Cardinal was senior forward Thomas Welsh, who had 18 points, shot 4-6 from three and grabbed 11 rebounds.
The Bruins began the game doing what they do best: Making threes. Two threes from Welsh and one from Holiday helped give UCLA a 13-4 lead. Davis and Okpala hit a few layups to cut the lead, but a three by Kris Wilkes gave the Bruins a 20-10 lead.
The Cardinal managed to bring the lead down to four, but Holiday began to take over. He hit two threes followed up by a difficult layup to make the score 30-17 for UCLA.
Davis follows Holiday’s lead by scoring eight points, including back-to-back threes, to get within two points. The refs, who have been giving controversial calls to every team in the tournament, strike again and allocate Davis a third foul for contesting a loose ball.
Okpala tied the game at 32-all, but the offense began to falter without their floor general on the court. The Cardinal went two-and-a-half minutes without scoring which allowed the Bruins to grow their lead to eight.
However, the offense finally flashed signs of life with back-to-back made threes by senior forward Michael Humphrey and Pickens as the Cardinal went into halftime down 44-40.
Despite outshooting UCLA from the field and from three, Stanford couldn’t cure its turnover bug. The Bruins had seven points off turnovers (on seven Stanford turnovers) compared to the Cardinal’s two.
Holiday had 17 points and five assists in the first half.
A minute into the first half, Davis was called for his fourth foul on what seemed to be a touch foul.
Stanford managed to keep the lead within five before free throws by UCLA’s Smith pushed the lead to 60-54. In that time, another Cardinal got into foul trouble as freshman forward Oscar Da Silva collected his fourth foul.
The offense bogged down again without Davis, scoring only seven points in five minutes.
Davis subbed back in with 6:50 remaining and the lead at 71-63 in favor of UCLA.
His reintroduction into the game might have been a bit too late as the Cardinal couldn’t close the gap, shooting 3-8 while the Bruins shot 5-9 to close the game.
The Cardinal needed to win the Pac-12 Tournament if they wanted to participate in March Madness, but their NIT bid is looking likely.
They will have to just wait till Sunday to find out.
“Now, if you look at the eye test and quality of the team, I think UCLA was really, really excited in their locker room afterwards because it meant something to beat us,” Coach Haase said. “And I think we’ve done a nice job as a program getting to the point right now where it means something to beat Stanford.”
“I will say I’m confident in the team that we have right now that we can compete with some of the best teams in college basketball.”
Contact Jose Saldana at jsaldana ‘at’ stanford.edu.