With the team’s last game more than a week ago and without senior guard Daejon Davis, Stanford (3-2, 0-0 Pac-12) had many hurdles to jump entering Tuesday’s matchup against Cal State Northridge (CSUN) (3-2, 0-0 Big West). While the struggles were evident in a back-and-forth first half, it was a dominant performance by senior forward Oscar da Silva that allowed the Cardinal to eventually separate and win 82-71.
Despite missing half of the usual starting backcourt in Davis, Stanford came out with energy. With dunks from da Silva and junior guard Bryce Wills as its first four points, the Cardinal was looking strong. Another bucket from da Silva made it seem as if Stanford just might run away with it, especially since it took CSUN nearly five minutes to hit its first shot — a jumper from redshirt junior guard TJ Starks.
Starks would prove to be a bright spot for the Matadors. He was the only reliable offensive threat in the first half and went on to score 19 points in the game. The guard from Oak Cliff, Texas also added five rebounds, five steals and four assists.
However, CSUN’s first bucket did little to disrupt da Silva’s hot streak, and the senior responded to Starks’ shot with a quick layup, getting the hoop and the harm and putting Stanford up by eight — the largest lead of the half.
Despite the early deficit, the Matadors were not willing to fall without a fight. CSUN hit two free throws followed by a much-needed three pointer from sophomore guard Brendan Harrick to close the gap. The game remained tight thereafter, although the two teams displayed very different strengths and weaknesses. At the 7:31 media timeout, the Cardinal led 19-17 and were shooting 61.5% (8-for-13) from the field. The Matadors paled in comparison, knocking down just 25% (6-for-24) of their shots.
CSUN stayed close with offensive rebounds and forced turnovers, hence the mere two-point deficit. Stanford’s 12-to-11 rebounding advantage was quite deceptive, given CSUN’s 7-to-1 advantage on the offensive boards. The Matadors repeatedly capitalized on their efforts to crash the boards, recording 26 second-chance points while the Cardinal notched a mere seven. In addition to lackluster offensive rebounding, sloppy play from the Cardinal created nine turnovers in just 12 and a half minutes, in comparison to four from CSUN.
Out of the media timeout, Stanford’s slight lead was maintained for about two and a half minutes, until, with 5:02 left in the half, back-to-back threes from senior forward Lance Coleman and freshman forward Alex Merkviladze, with a Wills turnover in between, continued an 8-0 CSUN run and gave the Matadors their biggest lead of the day.
Just as it seemed CSUN was gaining momentum, Stanford made a run of its own, scoring nine straight — including sophomore guard Spencer Jones’s first three of the game — and getting out to a 32-27 lead. Jones would end up hitting another three before the end of the half.
Jones played his best game of the season — a refreshing performance after having been the story of this Cardinal team for all the wrong reasons prior to Tuesday’s action. Despite getting into foul trouble, Jones was able to contribute ten points, three assists and two steals. It was his timely three-point shooting at the end of the first half that was crucial in giving the Cardinal a 36-33 halftime lead.
“We were up at halftime, and we had 17 less shots,” head coach Jerod Haase remarked.
It seemed the tactics were very different; the Matadors were shooting as much as possible, but the Cardinal tended to wait for their best shot, hence the high success rate. The result was a fairly even game throughout the first 20 minutes.
Both teams came out of the locker room playing with vitality. Freshman guard Ziaire Williams finally hit his stride, knocking down two jumpers nearly immediately into the half and dunking not long after. However, the score remained close, as CSUN players like Coleman and Starks responded every time it seemed the Cardinal would pull away.
In particular Coleman, the senior from Antioch, Calif., knocked down three shots from beyond the arc in the opening minutes of the second half, and, from then on, would be the most dangerous Matador player on the court. Coleman finished the game with a team-high 20 points.
With 15:47 to play, Stanford was up 44-43 with Williams responsible for six of Stanford’s first eight second-half points — a stark contrast from his quiet first half in which he failed to score. It remained anyone’s game to win, until a 9-0 Cardinal run led by freshman guard Noah Taitz seemed to be the turning point of the game.
“I think he gave us some really good minutes,” Haase said about the freshman, who scored 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting. “With Noah, the thing he needs to be able to do is really compete.”
Taitz is evidently a freshman with immense talent, and, once he gets more playing experience and becomes a grittier player, could be a force to be reckoned with in the Pac-12.
By the CSUN timeout with 9:23 left on the clock, the Cardinal were shooting an impressive 71.4% in the second half and demonstrating patience and tactical play that had been absent during earlier games this season, especially in the matchups with UNC and Indiana. Stanford had increased its lead to ten and was forcing the Matadors to take difficult shots.
In a last ditch effort, the Matadors went on a 5-0 run led by junior guard Darius Brown. However, with da Silva at the forefront, the Cardinal retaliated with a 7-0 run of its own. With 3:43 left to play, Stanford led by 14, which proved to be too much for the home team to overcome.
Da Silva was the story of the game. Despite being the team leader in points entering today’s game (17.3 per contest), his start to the season has been somewhat rocky due to foul trouble. Against North Carolina, da Silva sat for 18 minutes of the first half, which was particularly pronounced since the Cardinal lost by four points. Today, however, da Silva played flawlessly. In the first half, he scored 17 points on 5-of-6 shooting and went 7-for-7 from the free throw line.
His offensive performance was complemented by discipline, earning no first-half fouls as he played all but one minute in the half. Da Silva’s dominance carried into the second half, as he continued to be too difficult to contain for the Matadors. Overall on the day, da Silva scored a career-high 32 points and shot a perfect 14-for-14 from the charity stripe in what was a magnificent game for the senior.
The Cardinal will be back in action on Saturday to take on the Arizona Wildcats at Kaiser Permanente Arena in Santa Cruz, Calif. Tip-off is set for 5 p.m. PT. The relocation of the game to Santa Cruz reflects Stanford’s response to increasingly restrictive COVID-19 guidelines within Santa Clara County, which currently ban all contact sports.