Stanford men’s basketball grabbed its first Pac-12 victory of the year on Saturday with a dominant performance against Arizona State. After the game, sophomore forward KZ Okpala said, “We’re ready now. We know what we can do; we know we can beat any team. We’re ready.” Prepared to go on a run, the Cardinal will visit Seattle on Thursday to take on Washington. The Daily’s Michael Espinosa, Stephen Ren and Bobby Pragada share their thoughts on the statement win, the next man up for the Cardinal and what needs to be done against the Huskies.
If Saturday’s win over Arizona State can be considered a “statement win,” then it might be useful to look at Wednesday’s loss to Arizona as a “statement loss.” What can the team take away from the close loss to a top team in the Pac-12?
Michael Espinosa (ME): Play as a team. The team really seemed out of sync against Arizona. There were a lot of fouls that didn’t seem necessary, and most of the shots seemed forced at the end of offensive possessions. Stanford was also one for eight from beyond the arc. A couple of those shots landing could have been a huge momentum swing in the middle of the game.
Stephen Ren (SR): Despite the disappointing loss, it tells us that the team is better than what its current record might suggest. Going up against the first seed already down 0-2 in conference play, the team knew it was an opportunity for redemption — a “statement,” if you will. For most of the game, it seemed like they might pull it off, but they missed some good looks from beyond the arc and could not capitalize on momentum swings. Even with the slump from three, the team proved that it can stay with anyone in the Pac-12.
Bobby Pragada (BP): At the post-game press conference for Wednesday’s game, the players seemed genuinely disappointed. Okpala barely said anything, and Sharma gave most of the answers, talking about how the loss was a tough one for the team. Everyone in the room got the impression that this was a team defeated, the wind out of their sails, doomed for failure in the Pac-12.
Then Coach Haase entered the room, and my opinion of how the players had been acting completely changed. The way that he spoke indicated disappointment not in the fact that the team wasn’t good enough but rather in himself for not getting the most out of the team. He put forward an energy and determination that struck me as legitimate drive rather than desperation. He talked about the fact that there were no more moral victories, and he knew that the team could be better than what it put on the floor — he saw it himself in practice.
We saw the true Stanford Cardinal against Arizona State, a team rallied behind a fearless leader, who would do anything for his troops. At their peak, as Coach Haase himself said, this team can compete with any team in the country. It’s just up to him to bring it out of them. I think Arizona could end up being the game that lit the fire under the team and drove them to the ultimate success they are capable of.
Coach Haase has said that in order to perform at its top level, the team needs three to four players having outstanding performances during each game. Other than the usual suspects in Daejon Davis and KZ Okpala, who is a lower-impact player you believe can step up for the team?
ME: I think it has to be Oscar Da Silva. He put up 21 points against Arizona State, tied for most on the team. This was the first game he put up more than 10 points since December, and his points-per-game is just under that mark. If the Cardinal want to keep doing well, we’re going to need to see more from Da Silva.
SR: Josh Sharma could be just the impact player the team needs to step up to improve its post presence. If you look at the UCLA loss, the men were outscored 56 to 30 down low. The USC loss, 46 to 30.
When Stanford commands the paint, good (or at least better) things happen. The Cardinal’s only Pac-12 win this season against Arizona State came when they outscored them 46-34. And even though they lost the Arizona game, the team kept the game close all the way through by outscoring them 52-34. Not to mention they were the first seed, and the team’s three’s just were not falling that game.
With his size and physicality, Josh Sharma could be a real impact player. He’s shown many flashes on both ends of the court, and it is always electrifying when he throws down a monster slam off an alley. But he can be more than a finisher. With his size and physicality, he can be a real defensive and offensive presence down low — take some pressure off our guards, so they can work and create better.
BP: I’ve been telling everyone I can not to sleep on Bryce Wills, the freshman backup guard. Particularly with Cormac Ryan plagued by injury, Wills could see his already decent minutes take an even greater uptick. The 6-foot-6 player from New York has some serious athleticism, a great sense for defense and a ferocious drive for the game and in the paint.
Although he is only averaging 4.0 PPG, he’s started in several contests where a three-guard lineup has benefitted the team and is a strong option for a Cardinal offense that thrives off of moving the ball and continuously finding lanes. He’s also got three rebounds per game and nearly a steal per game as well. Plus, during the game against Portland State, I saw him try and dunk all the way over someone from the free throw line. He didn’t make it, but he was damn near close. Seriously, the dude has some terrifying hops.
Despite being 1-3 in the Pac-12, the team remains confident that it can make a run in the division. Yet the rest of the conference is no pushover, with strong teams that the Cardinal are yet to see: Oregon, Washington State and the Washington Huskies, whom Stanford takes on in Seattle on Thursday. What are you looking for in the Washington game to prove to you that this Stanford team is for real?
ME: I want to see the team put points on the board early. Against Arizona, Stanford scored its first points almost three minutes into the game. Against USC, Stanford scored its first points four and a half minutes into the game. The Cardinal jumped out to an early lead against UCLA, but they suffered from several three-minute intervals when it simply could not score. For this Stanford team to be real to me, it has to score early and score often.
SR: I need to see consistency from them, especially high pressure situations where the momentum of the game hangs in balance. Basketball is inherently a streaky sport, but it seems that every time the team is about to mount a huge comeback or go on a run, they always come up just short and allow the opponent to come back. It happened against USC. The Cardinal came into the game looking like they didn’t even belong on the court as the Trojans, but an offensive explosion out of the second half gave the team all the momentum it needed to mount a classic comeback story. The atmosphere was electrifying after Okpala’s go-ahead three. But right after Stanford takes the lead its momentum seems to falter, and too often, the team lets them pull away. The Cardinal are too good at getting ourselves out of a hole to keep falling back into one.
BP: Straight up, I don’t care how they do it; the team just needs to win this game. It can be by one point, it can be by 50 points, it can be another Daejon Davis half court buzzer beater, or it can be because a freak accident causes a Washington player to forget what team he plays for and score on his own hoop. Just win. A victory on the road against a top Pac-12 team would be unbelievable for momentum in this season. Win over Washington, and you go in hot to Corvallis. Then you return home, grab two easy wins over Utah and Colorado, and all of a sudden, you’re 5-3 in the Pac-12. Wow, just like that. It’s time to make a run, and it all starts with a win in Seattle, even if Haase himself needs to suit up and take down the Huskies.
Contact Michael Espinosa at mesp2021 ‘at’ stanford.edu, Stephen Ren at rensteph ‘at’ stanford.edu and Bobby Pragada at bpragada ‘at’ stanford.edu.