By Stephen Ren
For students and tourists alike, Southern California has always proved to be a popular travel destination during winter break. However, this most recent trip down to Los Angeles was not a pleasant one for the Stanford men’s basketball team (7-7, 0-2 Pac 12), which suffered defeats at the hands of both UCLA (9-6, 2-0 Pac 12) and USC (9-6, 2-0 Pac 12).
The conference opener tipped off last Thursday against the UCLA Bruins at Pauley Pavilion. Sophomore forward KZ Okpala continued to put up impressive numbers and notched his second double-double of the season with 22 points and 10 rebounds, but the Cardinal came up short in the 90-72 defeat.
Stanford’s offense fell into a slump early in the first half, going without a field goal for more than seven minutes and trailed 16-30 after a Kris Wilkes’ dunk for UCLA forced a Cardinal timeout. The momentum seemed to shift after the timeout call, and Stanford went on a 10-0 run. In that span, senior center Josh Sharma punched home an electrifying dunk off of a feed from sophomore forward Oscar da Silva. Stanford went into the halftime break down 32-38.
Neither team gave an inch of ground heading out of the half. Stanford and UCLA traded baskets for the first six minutes and Okpala contributed six of the Cardinal’s first 10 second-half points, punctuated with a dunk to keep the Cardinal within striking distance, 42-48.
In almost a replay of what happened in the first half, UCLA began to pull away as Stanford’s offense was again unable to maintain the firepower with which it started the half. After Okpala’s dunk, the Bruins outscored the Cardinal 44-28, and handed Stanford a defeat to start off conference play. Stanford will get another shot at UCLA this season back home at Maples Pavilion on Saturday, February 16 at 7 p.m. EST.
Hopeful to bounce back from the opening loss, Stanford marched into Trojan territory to face off against USC this past Sunday. This time, it was freshman shooting guard Cormac Ryan who put on a show for the Cardinal, nailing a career-high six threes that all came in the second half for his 18 points. Sophomore point guard Daejon Davis also contributed 14 points for the Cardinal and Okpala had 12.
The Trojans came out guns blazing, holding the Cardinal scoreless in the first four minutes and going on a 13-0 run. USC’s Nick Rakocevic poured in eight of those first 13 points. A dunk from Sharma put Stanford on the board and ignited the Cardinal, who held their own for the rest of the half. Stanford went into the break a little better off, but still trailing 21-31.
The Cardinal started the second half hot from beyond the arc and answered USC with a 25-12 run of their own. Stanford had five threes in this span, with three from Ryan, one from Davis and a final one from Okpala to put Stanford ahead for the first time in the game at 46-43.
Okpala’s three was the start of a long distance shootout between the two teams. USC’s Shaqquan Aaron answered back quickly with a three of this own to tie it up, but then Ryan buried a three off a dish from Davis to put the Cardinal back up again. The lead was short lived, as Derryck Thornton hit a three for USC to tie the game back up at 49.
USC took the lead again with a layup from Rakocevic, but a hot-shooting Ryan answered back on the very next position with his fifth three of the night, putting the Cardinal up one, 52-51.
The two teams stayed neck and neck for the next few possessions, but the Trojans began to pull away near the end of the game. Cormac’s last three of the night pulled the Cardinal within six points with just over a minute to play, but in the end USC outlasted Stanford, 77-66. The next matchup between the two teams will be at Maples Pavilion on Wednesday, February 13 at 8 p.m. EST.
In both games, Stanford was outscored in the paint by more points than they lost by. The Cardinal gave up 56 points down low to UCLA and 46 to USC, while only garnering 30 points from the paint themselves in each contest.
“We have to find a way to work on our interior defense right now,” said head coach Jerod Haase after the USC game. “Our guys need to figure out a way to get bigger, fast and stronger and as a coach I need to figure out different schemes to defend the basket better.”
Still seeking their first conference victory, Stanford will host the Arizona Wildcats (11-4, 2-0) this Wednesday at 8 p.m. PST.
Contact Stephen Ren at rensteph ‘at’ stanford.edu