In their quest for a set of conference wins on the road, the Cardinal set out this past weekend to the Pacific Northwest for their first pair of showdowns against the Washington schools. After a disappointing performance against the Washington Huskies (14-4, 5-0) on Thursday, Stanford men’s basketball (9-9, 2-4 Pac-12) rebounded against the Washington State Cougars (8-10, 1-4) on Saturday for their second Pac-12 victory.
Struggling against the Huskies
Thursday’s contest in Seattle was expected to be an uphill battle. Washington currently stands atop the conference standings with a perfect Pac-12 record, 5-0 on the year. Additionally, the game was broadcast nationally on ESPN, the Cardinal’s first appearance in prime-time since their losses to USC and UCLA. To top it off, Washington played aggressively and with purpose, driven to end their three-game losing streak to Stanford and prove a point to former UW-commit and Seattle native Daejon Davis.
Even in a game with so many existing storylines, the most surprising statistic from the first half ended up being the disappointing performance of Stanford’s newfound superstar, sophomore forward KZ Okpala. Coming into the game averaging nearly 18 PPG, Okpala shot 1-6 from the floor and made two free throws in the first half for a meager four points, two rebounds, two personal fouls, one technical foul and zero assists.
Without Okpala to sustain the Stanford offensive, the Cardinal attack truly suffered throughout the first 20 minutes of the game. Stanford’s leading scorer at the half was senior center Josh Sharma, who went into the locker room with 11 of Stanford’s 24 points. Sharma turned in a great performance in the paint, supplying six more points in the second half to finish with 17, alongside eight rebounds.
The Stanford offense was outright painful to watch in the first half, as sophomore point guard Daejon Davis disappeared as well, scoring zero points. Yet as badly as the starting lineup performed (albeit missing freshman shooting guard Cormac Ryan), they still scored 22/24 points in the half, with only two coming off the bench.
Washington took full advantage of the deflated Stanford attack, shutting down the Cardinal with defensive prowess. An 11-0 run in the middle of the first half put the Huskies up 18-8 early on, a lead which Stanford would only ever be able to pull to nine points. The Huskies led at the half, 37-24.
Out of the locker room, Okpala had a decided change in his pace of play. Whatever halftime adjustments head coach Jerod Haase implemented, they had a decided intention. Get the ball into Okpala’s hands.
Okpala made the most of these opportunities, taking over the game and shooting 8-11 in the second half, for 18 additional points. Okpala’s scoring boosted him to a game-high 22, good for his 10th 20+ performance of the year.
Washington’s leading scorer, Jaylen Nowell, also scored 22 points on the night.
The deciding factor in the game was the disparity in bench points. Even with Davis finding his footing as well, and scoring eight points in the second half, the Cardinal were outscored 32-10 from the bench. Poor play from a thinning backup roster will be an issue the Cardinal will have to address in the coming weeks.
Despite hanging tough and playing strong defense against a top Washington team, the Cardinal never pulled the game closer than nine points, even after a last-minute three by sophomore guard Isaac White gave the team a bump of energy. The clock expired with the Huskies up 80-64.
Rebounding against the Cougars
Saturday’s contest against Washington State was a solid get-right performance for the Cardinal, even with Okpala riding the bench with back spasms. The rest of the team stepped up in a big way during the 78-66 win, with five total players in double figures. Davis led the team with 15, but was joined by Sharma with 13, sophomore forward Oscar Da Silva with 12, freshman guard Bryce Wills with 13 and junior guard Marcus Sheffield off the bench with 11.
Despite Wazzu’s CJ Elleby leading all players with 18 points and eight rebounds and Ahmed Ali contributing 14 points on 4-5 three-point shooting, Stanford was able to control the pace of the game and match the Cougars blow for blow.
The Cardinal fell behind early, dropping to 14-6 after six minutes in the game. Yet a 13-2 run, sparked by Wills’ three-point shooting and aggressive drives, let Stanford bring the lead back. A game of runs would yield another 14-2 stretch for the Cardinal before the Cougars ran a 7-0 stretch to leave Stanford up 39-35 at the half.
The home crowd was riotous throughout the match, particularly at the start of the second half, when Washington State somehow scored seven straight points in 32 seconds, bringing the score to 47-46.
The energy of the home crowd soon died down as Stanford began raining three-pointers, with Da Silva, Davis and Sheffield all making consecutive buckets in a 9-2 stretch. Stanford shot 8-20 from beyond the arc during the game, good for 40 percent overall.
The closest the game got after this point was 69-64 with the Cardinal up and about three minutes remaining, but level heads and strong fundamental play led to six consecutive Stanford points, and the game easily closed out, finally ending at 78-66.
Stanford led the game for 29 minutes, and looked convincing in their win over the struggling Cougars, even without their best player on the court in Okpala. The Cardinal return to Maples this Thursday to take on Colorado at 6 p.m. PST.
Contact Bobby Pragada at bpragada ‘at’ stanford.edu