From foul trouble, to cold shooting, to missed rebounds, Tuesday’s semifinal matchup at the Maui Invitational was rocky for Stanford (1-1, 0-0 Pac-12). Despite a strong defensive effort and a stellar performance by senior guard Daejon Davis, the Cardinal came just short of defeating No. 14 North Carolina (3-0, 0-0 ACC), falling 67-63.
Both teams got off to a shaky start. UNC started out cold, shooting just 2-for-6 from the field heading into the first media timeout, and Stanford, despite hitting three of its first four shots, had to rely on its depth due to early foul trouble for senior forward Oscar da Silva. Freshman forward Ziaire Williams also started the game as somewhat of a non-factor on the offensive end, forcing the Cardinal to depend on Davis.
Davis guided his Cardinal squad without da Silva, scoring 11 of his team’s 33 in the front half of the matchup. He would go on to lead the way in points, assists and steals in 39 minutes of play and appears to be re-adapting well into his point guard role.
Despite Davis’ successes, rebounds were the main differentiator between the teams throughout the game. At the half, North Carolina’s 20-to-10 rebounding advantage appeared to be the result of da Silva’s 18 minutes on the bench, but the Tar Heels went on to out-rebound the Cardinal 23-13 in the second half, in which da Silva played all 20 minutes.
“I don’t anticipate it being a year-long problem, but it certainly was tonight,” head coach Jerod Haase said on this discrepancy. Haase also mentioned that he had expected a “disadvantage situation” today due to the Cardinal’s defensive strategy of fronting the post, which minimizes the offense’s freedom to dump the ball inside, but consequently gives the offense the inside man on rebounds.
Without rebounds, the Cardinal relied more heavily upon free throws, securing nine points from the charity stripe in the first half, seven of which came from bench players. By the end of the half, UNC had committed 11 fouls — nearly double Stanford’s six — as well as 11 turnovers. The struggles from both teams kept the game close and the score was tied at 25 with under four minutes to play in the half. From there, it was an 8-0 Cardinal run led by Williams that allowed the Cardinal to gain a lead and eventually head to the locker room up 33-29 after the first 20 minutes of play.
As the second half began, it looked like Stanford still had relative control of the game, extending its lead to 39-33 and then 41-36, but a technical foul called against Williams turned the momentum of the game. A 10-0 Tar Heel run followed, and Stanford appeared to be losing control of its offense. Williams was called for another questionable foul, fueling the frustration of the freshman and leaving more experienced players like Davis and da Silva to help maintain the team’s composure.
The Cardinal searched for an offensive rhythm but found none, as their momentum was often disrupted by foul calls, many of which were contested by players and announcers alike. Williams was pulled out due to his dangerously high four fouls with nearly 11 minutes of action left. In the end, Williams found himself nine short of his 19-point debut performance against Alabama on Monday.
With Williams out, Davis, da Silva and Wills all stepped up to pull more than their weight while sophomore forward Spencer Jones stayed cold.
Most notably, da Silva was a second-half star, with all 13 of his points coming in the back half of the game. Wills, who had an injury scare in the first half, was also a major force in the fight for momentum. He scored 12 points and forced three steals in what was another solid performance for the former All-Pac-12 Defensive Team Member.
All the while, Jones was on his way to yet another suboptimal offensive performance. Jones finished the game with three points on 1-of-9 shooting.
Given the back-and-forth nature of the game, Stanford used many of its timeouts early, with its final one being called with just over six minutes remaining. With 4:56 left to play, Williams was put back in and within 40 seconds he made a crucial second-chance layup, putting Stanford up two. However, UNC’s senior forward Garrison Brooks quickly retaliated with a bucket of his own to tie up the game. Subsequent baskets put UNC up 66-63, and missed attempts by Williams and Jones all but ended the Cardinal’s chances of an upset victory. UNC junior guard Leaky Black’s made free throw with five seconds remaining was the nail in the coffin.
For UNC, it was a sloppy game, with 24 turnovers in contrast to Stanford’s 13. However, dominance on the boards and contributions from many different Tar Heels helped them edge out the Cardinal.
Freshman guard Caleb Love led the way with 16 points, six of which came early in the second half as he sank two from behind the arc. With five players in double figures, however, it was very much a team effort.
ACC Preseason Player of the Year Brooks was a dangerous presence down low, finishing with 10 points and nine rebounds. Brooks capitalized on da Silva’s absence, bringing down seven of his nine boards in the first half. He was aided by sophomore forward Armando Bacot, who added six rebounds of his own on top of his double-figure scoring night.
Freshman guards R.J. Davis and Black were the final two to have big scoring days for the Tar Heels, with 11 and 10 points respectively.
On Wednesday, Stanford will be back in action for the third-place game of the Maui Invitational. The Cardinal will be facing off against the Indiana Hoosiers, who are coming off of a slow offensive performance and a 22-point loss to the No. 17 Texas Longhorns. Tip-off is set for 10:30 a.m. PT.