For their first test of the 2019-2020 season, Stanford men’s basketball will battle the University of Montana Grizzlies on Wednesday. The game, which it set to tip off at 7pm, is the first time the Cardinal has hosted Montana since November 2017, when the Griz were taken down in a 70-54 decision.
Though last year’s season opener resulted in a dazzling 96-74 Cardinal victory over Seattle, the season that followed was admittedly less impressive, as the team finished with an overall record of 15-16 (8-10 in Pac-12). Stanford went into the Pac-12 Tournament as the No. 10 seed, but all hope for an underdog success story was lost when the team dropped a first-round game to No. 7 UCLA, 79-72. In this year’s Pac-12 preseason poll, the Cardinal were picked to finish 10th once again.
Wednesday’s matchup against Montana is a chance for Stanford to showcase a roster featuring four fresh faces and lacking six from last year’s team. At the end of the 2018-2019 season, the team anticipated the loss of 7-0 senior center Josh Sharma ’19 as well as standout forward KZ Okpala, who was drafted after his sophomore year to the Phoenix Suns as the 32nd overall pick in the 2019 NBA draft. Okpala was later traded to the Miami Heat.
Less expected, however, was the loss of freshman Cormac Ryan, senior guard Marcus Sheffield, redshirt sophomore Kodye Pugh, and junior forward Trevor Stanback. This past spring, Ryan and Sheffield both announced their decisions to transfer, with Ryan eventually joining the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame and Sheffield trading in his Stanford jersey for one at Elon University. As a freshman, Ryan played in twenty-four games for the Cardinal—starting in seventeen of them—though a left-ankle injury kept the four-star recruit sidelined for a large part of the season.
It was revealed in September that Pugh had sustained a knee injury during the team’s ten-day European trip. The redshirt junior opted to undergo the needed surgery and miss the upcoming season. Medical reasons were also to blame when Stanback announced he would be retiring from basketball and taking on the role of Student Assistant Coach for the 2019-2020 Cardinal team.
“In terms of sheer numbers, we’re down a little bit,” said head coach Jerod Haase. “But again, with the guys we have, we’re certainly very excited”
Despite the absences, the Cardinal is hardly without talent or experience with junior forward Oscar da Silva and junior guard Daejon Davis returning to the hardwood. As the only Cardinal to start all thirty-one games last season, da Silva consistently posted impressive stats, including four 20-point games. The 6-9 forward also averaged 6.0 rebounds per game—the 13th highest in 2018-2019 Pac-12 play. A defensive menace, Davis tallied a team-high total of thirty-nine steals in the twenty-six games he appeared in last season. He currently ranks in the top-20 in program history for career assists with a whopping 274 and recently earned a spot on the Preseason All-Pac-12 Second Team.
Also back for more are sophomore guard Bryce Wills and sophomore forward Jaiden Delaire. Appearing in 30 and 31 games, respectively, the duo had a hand in much of the Cardinal’s success. Perhaps most notable was Wills’ comeback-capitalizing layup in the final twenty seconds against USC in February. To add insult to injury for USC, Wills then drew a foul with 1.2 seconds left to play, sank both free throws on the one-and-one, and left the Trojans stunned, 79-76.
“Without question could be one of the best defensive guards in the conference,” Haase said of Wills. “But also needs to continue to learn the game.”
After Stanford’s battle against the Grizzlies, which tips off the season at 7pm on Wednesday, the Cardinal will take on Cal State Fullerton on Saturday at 8pm. Both games will take place in Maples Pavilion, and are the first glimpses into the exciting season fans hope to see.
Contact Savanna Stewart at savnstew ‘at’ stanford.edu.