Jan. 4, 2009. Before today, that was the last time Stanford men’s basketball took down the Arizona Wildcats. This time, however, it was all Cardinal, as Stanford (4-2, 1-0 Pac-12) downed the Wildcats (5-1, 0-1 Pac-12) 78-75 in Santa Cruz.
Many fans will likely be thanking sophomore guard Spencer Jones for the victory that broke Arizona’s 20-game win streak against the Cardinal. While he wasn’t the high scorer and battled foul trouble throughout, it was Jones’ two threes in the final minutes of play (2:40 and 2:03) that took Stanford from down two to up four.
“Every time you have tough games, it can mess with your confidence, but I don’t think it really did with him,” head coach Jerod Haase said of Jones’ shooting struggles early in the season. “In terms of belief, the staff and players have unbelievable belief in him.”
In addition to Jones, Stanford’s offense was balanced and consistent on almost all fronts. From long range, the Cardinal shot an impressive 7-of-13 (53.8%). Stanford’s success from beyond the arc paired nicely with its diligence in the paint — outscoring the Wildcats 42-26. In fact, of the Cardinal’s first 18 points, every single one from the field came in the paint — with the two exceptions being free throws.
Rebounding, which has plagued the Cardinal this season, was mostly a nonissue. While Stanford was out-rebounded 20-16 in the first half (7-3 on offensive rebounds), the Cardinal were strong on the boards in the back half of the game, matching Arizona’s 14 second-half rebounds.
Leading the team in boards was junior guard Bryce Wills, who secured seven. Wills also contributed four assists and 13 points in an impressive all-around performance.
“He was a joy to coach tonight,” Haase said of Wills. “He’s a natural leader.”
Junior forward Jaiden Delaire finished with five points and six rebounds in what was another bright spot for the Cardinal. The 6-foot-9 forward provided frontcourt depth and further put the back spasms — which had caused him to sit out for three of their six games this season — behind him.
With players like Delaire pulling their weight, balanced scoring was a highlight of Stanford’s offensive play. Four starters finished in double figures and the fifth, Jones, was just one point shy. The win showed that the Cardinal can continue conference play knowing they do not have to rely only on senior forward Oscar da Silva, who had a career-high 32 points in this week’s tight win over Cal State Northridge.
Though he wasn’t carrying the Cardinal like he did against CSUN, da Silva brought his consistency and poise to yet another game. He was Stanford’s leading scorer once again, earning 21 points on 8-of-13 shooting, and his powerful dunk just 1:20 into the game ended up being the highlight of the day. However, da Silva did face some foul trouble, having to sit temporarily with 13:21 left due to his three personal fouls.
More surprising for da Silva and the rest of the Cardinal were difficulties at the foul line. After shooting a perfect 14-for-14 from the line against CSUN, the forward shot just 1-for-4 in the first half, and as a team, the Cardinal shot just 13-of-22. Da Silva, however, stepped it up when it really counted; he went 2-for-2 in the last five seconds of the game — two essential points for the Cardinal to extend its lead to three.
Just behind da Silva in scoring was freshman guard Ziaire Williams, who finished with 16 points and four assists. After a difficult first half, it seemed Williams would fall short of a comparable performance to his debut against Alabama in which he scored 19 points. However, an outstanding second half that included two three pointers displayed that while it seems the freshman is still learning to play at the collegiate level, his performance against Alabama was clearly no fluke.
Senior guard Daejon Davis, returning to the starting lineup after missing the team’s last game, finished with 11 points and a team-high seven assists. Davis had the potential for even more if not for his collision with an Arizona player which forced him to limp off the court with 9:30 to play.
While it’s easy to simply focus on the Cardinal’s well-rounded offensive performance, it’s important to highlight Stanford’s defensive prowess, which was on full display in the first half as the Wildcats were held to just 23 points. The Cardinal made things difficult for the Arizona offense in many respects — from forcing bad shots to only allowing one assist in the entire first half to containing 7-foot-1 sophomore center Christian Koloko.
In the second half, however, Arizona shot nearly 70% from the field and scored an astounding 52 second-half points, a combination of a lapse in Stanford’s defense and the sharp shooting of junior guard Jemarl Baker Jr.
Though the Wildcats fell just short of winning, Baker had an admirable second-half performance — one that almost led Arizona to a comeback victory. In the back half of the game alone, Baker scored 26 points and was seemingly unstoppable from beyond the arc, knocking down seven of his ten attempts. The junior guard from Menifee, Calif. led all scorers with 29 total points and showed immense promise for a team that is missing its star guards from last season, Nico Mannion and Josh Green.
It was largely a one-man show for head coach Sean Miller’s squad, as no other Arizona player finished with more than ten points. Baker outscored the rest of his starting five 29-18, and early season standout, junior guard James Akinjo, struggled to the tune of seven points on 2-of-8 shooting.
The Cardinal will be back in action on Monday as it takes on the Cal State Bakersfield Roadrunners. The matchup will be played at Kaiser Permanente Arena in Santa Cruz, and tip-off is set for 6 p.m. PT.