By Shan Reddy
With just four games remaining in conference play this season, the Stanford men’s basketball team (14-12, 7-7 Pac-12) heads to Tucson, AZ, this Sunday at 5 p.m. to take on the Arizona Wildcats (14-12, 5-8 Pac-12).
Stanford is coming off of a tough 62-80 loss at Arizona State and is looking to bounce back this weekend with a win over a struggling Arizona team that may have just lost one of their top players for the rest of the season.
The situation could not be much worse for the Wildcats, who lost seven consecutive games, all to Pac-12 opponents before running into a dismal Cal team that has not yet won a game this season. The slump dropped Arizona to 10th in the Pac-12 rankings, only one spot ahead of the 4-9 Washington State Cougars.
To top it all off, the star freshman guard Brandon Williams has missed Arizona’s last six games while dealing with pain in his surgically repaired right knee; the timetable for his return still remains uncertain. Before the injury, Williams was averaging 12.0 points per game, a mark good for second on the team, and led the team with 13.8 points per game in Pac-12 play.
“There’s a chance he might not play at all. We’re hoping that at some point he’s going to return to our team,” Arizona head coach Sean Miller said Wednesday in an interview with SBNation’s Brian J. Pedersen on Williams’ status for the Stanford game. “We have to be patient. Brandon has to be patient.”
Stanford, on the other hand, has been playing solid but not spectacular basketball, led by the efforts of senior center Josh Sharma, who racked up 17 points against the Sun Devils on a perfect 7-7 shooting. Sharma was dominant in the paint, while sophomore point guard Daejon Davis dished out 11 assists to get the offense rolling in his first game since returning from injury.
Stanford was without leading scorer KZ Okpala on Wednesday, and was thus unable to put up points from deep; the Cardinal went 2-21 from beyond the arc against the Sun Devils. Okpala’s importance to the offense cannot be overstated — he leads Stanford in points per game with 17.5 and minutes per game with 33.5. The Cardinal hope to have the sophomore forward back for the matchup in Tucson this Sunday, though the reason for his absence Wednesday still remains unclear.
With the postseason quickly approaching, every match counts, and Stanford must return to full form as it goes on to finish off the final four games of the season. With or without Okpala in the lineup on Sunday, the Cardinal face a downward-spiraling Arizona team coming off of a massive losing streak, and hope to build up momentum beginning this Sunday en route to the Pac-12 Tournament next month.
Contact Shan Reddy at rsreddy ‘at’ stanford.edu.