Stanford, Cal and a winning record will enter Maples on Senior Night Thursday — and not all three will make it out, as the Cardinal (15-14, 8-9 Pac-12) look to rebound from Sunday’s rare, one-point home loss at the paws of the conference-leading Washington Huskies (23-6, 14-2 Pac-12).
The Golden Bears (7-22, 2-15 Pac-12) gave Stanford its closest road game of the season on Feb. 3, a 84-81 Cardinal victory that at the time kept Cal winless in the Pac-12. But Cal has strung together back-to-back wins against Washington State (11-18, 4-12 Pac-12) and the same Washington team that just defeated the Cardinal.
Sophomore Cardinal forward KZ Okpala could be the difference-maker in a game that may be closer than records suggest. Stanford shot 57.1 percent to Cal’s 49.2 percent from the field in the teams’ previous matchup, but — with the exception of blowing out Washington State — Stanford’s offense has sputtered in recent weeks.
Failing to connect a last-second three for the win was just one of Okpala’s struggles in Sunday’s loss to Washington, as he shot just 28.6 percent from the field and 25 percent from the free-throw line. In the Cardinal’s previous game against Cal, however, Okpala posted a career-best 30 points, notching eight rebounds and four assists in the process.
Speaking of Stanford’s difference-makers, sophomore guard Daejon Davis played only nine minutes in Sunday’s loss to Washington, after injuring his left foot against Washington State last week. His playtime will also be a factor on Thursday, as the widely acclaimed player posted 14 points and a pair of assists in 39 minutes against Cal last month.
Breakout senior center Josh Sharma will be the lone player celebrated on Senior Night, along with team manager Ryan Cole. Sharma was hardly slowed by Washington as he continues his quest to shatter Stanford’s record field goal shooting percentage of 67.1 percent. It is unclear how much Sharma’s record-in-the-making — currently standing at 69.8 percent — will be affected on Thursday; the senior took only two shots total in the Cardinal’s previous matchup against Cal.
Sharma’s record aside, Thursday’s game is personal. Stanford is looking for its third-straight win over archrival Cal, who last defeated the Cardinal on Dec. 30, 2017. On the other hand, Cal is looking for its third-straight win, after starting the season 5-22 and winless in the Pac-12.
Watch for Cal guards Paris Austin and Darius McNeill to make waves when they cross the Bay for Stanford’s first regular-season closer at home since 2014. In Austin’s first year playing for Cal, the redshirt junior is averaging 11.6 points per game, shooting 44.4 percent from the field. Sophomore McNeill, meanwhile, averaged 18 points and shot 58.5 percent from the field across the Golden Bears’ previous two games.
Stanford will look to tranquilize the Golden Bears’ roaring return from hibernation when the two teams fight tooth and claw at Maples. The game is set to tip off at 8 p.m. this Thursday.
Contact Holden Foreman at hs4man21 ‘at’ stanford.edu.