Many fans expected a close matchup between Stanford men’s basketball (1-0, 0-0 Pac-12) and the Alabama Crimson Tide (1-1, 0-0 SEC) in the first round of the Maui Invitational, and for the opening minutes of the game, that was what they got. However, a 9-0 run to close the first half, four players in double figures and a magnificent performance by freshman forward Ziaire Williams in his first collegiate game helped the Cardinal separate. And Stanford eventually secured an impressive 82-64 victory.
Although Stanford lacked a warm-up game, as their matchup against Utah Valley was canceled, the Cardinal came out with plenty of energy.
Despite a starting charge from Alabama, Williams knocked down the first shot — a deep three — after forcing a turnover on the defensive end. Following Williams’ bucket, Alabama went on a 7-0 run, with sophomore guard Jaden Shackelford knocking down both from the line, redshirt sophomore guard Jahvon Quinerly hitting a three-pointer to complement Shackelford’s efforts at the charity stripe and senior forward Herbert Jones sinking a bucket of his own. Stanford proceeded to mirror the Crimson Tide’s run with a 7-0 charge of its own, but Alabama’s senior forward Alex Reese kept the Cardinal within reach, tying up the game with five points — his first five of the season.
Reminiscent of last year’s Stanford squad that struggled with taking charge of the contest from the tip, the teams continued back-and-forth play before the Cardinal began to heat up.
Although both teams were shooting around 50% from the field, with 4:06 to play in the first half, Stanford had found success from deep, hitting an impressive 62.5% from behind the arc (5-for-8) as opposed to Alabama’s 27.3% (3-for-11). A 9-0 Cardinal run to end the half created some comfortable separation, highlighting Stanford’s ability to dominate on both ends of the floor and sending Stanford to the locker room up 41-29.
Despite Stanford building momentum at the end of the first, Alabama started the second half with a fresh energy, securing a quick and-1, keeping the game within seven. However, the Cardinal quickly picked up where they left off, with junior guard Bryce Wills earning five points off a three-pointer and a dunk to put Stanford up by 12.
With such a strong team dynamic, it didn’t take long for the Cardinal to run away with it. Leading the way was Wills, who, after a cold first half, seemed to come alive in the back half of the game. With 8:26 to go, the Cardinal had built a sizable lead of 23 points, and it was Wills’ 13 second-half points on 6-for-7 shooting that prevented Alabama from ever closing the gap.
While Wills was the story of the second half, Williams was the story of the game. The highly touted freshman led all scorers in the first half, recording 13 points and knocking down an impressive three shots from long range. Combined with his seven first-half rebounds, Williams was the main factor in Stanford’s initial separation from the Crimson Tide, which gave the Cardinal the momentum it needed to take the victory comfortably.
Williams’ youth was on display early in the game and was responsible for four of Stanford’s first five turnovers, but he quickly gained better control of the ball. The Sierra Canyon alum made up for his mistakes in points, boards and assists. Williams finished with a game-high 19 points and had only two turnovers in the final 27 minutes of the game.
“His ability is off the charts, but I also know that his character and the kind of person he is […] really is the foundation for how he’s built his game,” head coach Jerod Haase said of Williams’ ability to perform so well under the stress of his first collegiate performance.
Williams’ character shined through not only in his successful play but also in his unity with the more experienced pieces of this Stanford squad.
Other notable returners, senior forward Oscar da Silva and senior guard Daejon Davis, had stellar games as well. Da Silva, who averaged 15.7 points per game (ppg) last season, put up 13 points while bringing down seven rebounds. Davis, in his return to the point guard position following the loss of Tyrell Terry to the NBA, also notched 13, while adding four assists and four rebounds.
A low point for the Cardinal was the suboptimal performance by sophomore forward Spencer Jones. He averaged 8.8 ppg last season but was somewhat of a non-factor on the offensive end tonight, scoring just three points on 1-for-4 shooting. He did, however, match his teammates’ defensive effort, reeling in seven defensive rebounds, getting two blocks and leading the team with three steals.
For the Crimson Tide, it was a disappointing offensive performance across the board, shooting just 36% from the field and 24% from long range. The SEC foe was sloppy, turning it over 22 times (as opposed to Stanford’s 15). Even so, with Stanford only scoring 14 points off of turnovers, it seems it was not Alabama’s careless mistakes but rather their cold shooting combined with Stanford’s offensive dominance that sealed the fate of the Crimson Tide.
Fans had high expectations for the Alabama transfers, Quinerly and graduate forward Jordan Bruner. Quinerly was a bright spot for Alabama, scoring 14 points and leading the team in steals. Bruner had a slower start to the game, failing to score in the first half, but his eight second-half points showed that he is a capable player who could be expected to make an impact in the future.
Alabama starters, senior guard John Petty and Shackelford, struggled, shooting a combined 6-for-20 from the field. Without these two stars from last season performing to their full potential, it was difficult for Alabama to develop a rhythm.
Entering this game, there was doubt as to how Stanford would respond to the loss of star point guard Terry.
“Ty is a great player, but we have built a program,” Wills noted in regard to the current team’s first performance without the fan-favorite on its roster.
Wills and his supporting cast proved his words, demonstrating that Stanford is not just led by one player but rather performs as a cohesive group. If the Cardinal can replicate today’s team effort, they will be a force to be reckoned with in the Pac-12 later this season.
On Tuesday the Cardinal will be back in action at 1 p.m. PT for the semifinals of the Maui Invitational. Stanford will be taking on No. 14 North Carolina, as the Tar Heels look to stay hot after a 27-point victory over UNLV.