By Arman Kassam
Having lost the first two matches against Pac-12 opponents this season, Stanford men’s basketball seeks vengeance in today’s game against the Arizona Wildcats (11-4, 2-0 Pac-12). Just as we brace for a season of seemingly endless rain, the Cardinal is bracing for a tough match against formidable opponents — the Wildcats come off of a four-game winning streak, most recently clinching an overtime victory against Utah (7-7, 1-1 Pac-12).
Though Stanford may have to deal with torrents of Arizona offense from the likes of Chase Jeter and Brandon Randolph, the Cardinal recently showcased a strong offensive game of their own with sophomore forward KZ Okpala and freshman shooting guard Cormac Ryan. Sure, Stanford may have to deal with a storm, but it’s not like the team hasn’t had to deal with tempests before. And after all, nothing grows without a little bit of water.
Matches against UCLA (9-6, 2-0 Pac-12) and USC (9-6, 2-0 Pac-12) on Jan. 3 and 6 did not end well for Stanford. The Pac-12 debut against UCLA quickly turned into a game of catch-up after the Cardinal failed to put in a field goal for more than seven minutes in the first half. The tides began to turn after Stanford took a timeout, recuperated and responded with a 10-0 run that included an explosive dunk from senior center Josh Sharma. The Cardinal ended the first half down 38-32 and wouldn’t make a comeback in the second half. Okpala was able to notch a fast break dunk and keep the game within a six-point difference (48-42), but regardless of how much the Stanford offense tried in the second half, not much could stop the deluge coming from the Bruins. Stanford finished the game down 92-70. Still, Okpala ended with an impressive 22 points and 10 rebounds.
While Okpala stood out in the bout against the Bruins, Cormac Ryan put on quite the performance against the Trojans with a career-high 18 points on six threes. The match against USC began bleak as the Trojans were able to secure 13 points to the Cardinal’s zero. Another dunk from Sharma galvanized Stanford into action, and by the end of the first half, the Cardinal gained 21 points to the Trojans’s 31. The second half was where Stanford put things into high gear, going on a 25-12 run that ended with the Cardinal taking the lead after Okpala put a three in, making the score 46-43. Ryan was able to sink three threes during that run and net another three field goals throughout the second half, keeping the two teams neck-and-neck until the Trojans pushed past to claim a 77-66 victory.
In both matches against UCLA and USC, Stanford’s interior defense proved to be lacking, leaving the Cardinal significantly outscored in the paint. Building on an interior bulwark will be key as they gear up for today’s match against Arizona. The Wildcats’ Brandon Randolph recently scored 21 points to secure an overtime victory against Utah, giving Arizona a 2-0 start in the Pac-12. Randolph has scored double figures in all 15 games that the Wildcats have played this season. Like Randolph, the Wildcats’ Chase Jeter has also brought the heat with a flurry of double-doubles this season; in the match against Utah, he scored a career high of 21 points and set a new career high in rebounds at 13. Their Achilles’ heel, however, may be their second-half performances. In recent wins over Colorado (9-5, 0-2 Pac-12) and UC Davis (4-10, 0-0 Big West), the Wildcats have significantly underscored in the second half. Luckily for the Cardinal, and if the match against USC is any indication, this is where we shine.
Brace yourself for this tempest of a game at Stanford, 8 p.m. PST in Maples.
Contact Arman Kassam at armank ‘at’ stanford.edu.