After getting swept on the road against the mountain schools, Stanford men’s basketball (8-5, 4-3 Pac-12) is back in California ready to take on the USC Trojans (11-3, 5-2 Pac-12). This game, like all other Cardinal home games to date this season, will be played at Kaiser Permanente Arena in Santa Cruz due to restrictive COVID-19 guidelines in Santa Clara County.
It was a difficult past week for Stanford. It all started with a 79-65 loss to Utah, in which the Cardinal played arguably its worst game of the season. From senior forward Oscar da Silva being shut down to freshman guard Michael O’Connell’s quiet game to lackluster rebounding, it was an extremely challenging game against a Utah team that would go on to lose to Cal later in the week.
The road trip concluded with a 77-64 loss to Colorado — a very balanced and strong team capable of winning the Pac-12. Stanford trailed by one point with under six minutes to play in the first half, but the Buffaloes went on a 16-3 run to end the half and never looked back. Against Colorado, da Silva had a phenomenal game, scoring 22 points and securing 12 rebounds, but the guard play was sub-optimal. O’Connell and senior guard Daejon Davis combined for just four points while freshman guard Noah Taitz scored zero points on 0-for-5 shooting off the bench.
The opposition doesn’t get much easier this week, with the LA schools coming to NorCal, and it starts with USC. The Trojans, who are in second place in the Pac-12, have become a definite conference title contender, but have been incredibly inconsistent. A 26-point win over BYU and a road win against Arizona shows their potential, while a loss to Oregon State on Tuesday showed the team’s inconsistencies. UC Riverside was also able to force overtime against the Trojans, illustrating that, while USC eventually came out on top, it is vulnerable to upsets.
Though Stanford also enters Thursday’s match-up on a losing run, the Trojans’ abrupt loss of momentum could prove vulnerable to a Cardinal team desperate to get back on track.
That being said, a Cardinal victory will not come easy, and Stanford will need to work hard to mitigate a number of threats on the USC squad. Much of the Trojans’ success could be attributed to freshman forward Evan Mobley, who has lived up to expectations. Standing at 7-foot and averaging 16.2 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, Mobley is not only one of the best freshmen in the nation, but one of the best players, period. The combination of him and his brother, sophomore forward Isaiah Mobley, forms a dominant front court.
The back court is the main issue for USC. While guards like grad transfer Tahj Eaddy and junior Drew Peterson have stepped into leadership positions and provided double-figure scoring, the back court talent is a significant step below that of the front court. This was evident against UC Riverside last week, as the Mobley brothers combined for 36 of USC’s 67 points in an overtime victory over the Highlanders. UC Riverside is not a team that should be able to play USC closely, let alone one that can force overtime at the Galen Center.
Keys to the game
For Stanford, the first key is to contain the Mobley brothers. In the past, Stanford has struggled against big and strong teams. For example, North Carolina out-rebounded the Cardinal 43-23 at the Maui Invitational as guys like senior forward Garrison Brooks dominated on the interior. Stanford’s closest response to E. Mobley is going to be da Silva, who is three inches shorter than the freshman phenom, meaning everyone will have to work together to contain one of the best frontcourts in the Pac-12.
The second key for the Cardinal is to keep the offense alive. In Utah, the Utes ended the first half on a 14-2 run, and in Colorado, the Buffaloes ended the first half on a 16-3 run. Like past seasons, this Stanford team seems to undergo periods of offensive disappearance, and every time it happens it puts Stanford too far behind to come back. The offense needs to be consistent and alive against USC.
USC’s first key is for its back court to step up. While everyone knows the Mobley brothers are elite, the back court has something to prove. If Eaddy, Peterson and senior guard Isaiah White can match Stanford’s back court, the Trojans will be extremely difficult to beat.
The second key for the Trojans is to take advantage of E. Mobley’s size. Quite simply, 7-foot Mobley will be the biggest, strongest player on the court, and he could easily score 20 points and have 10 rebounds against the smaller Stanford forwards. USC should center its plays around him, as guard matchups are likely to favor the Cardinal in most cases.
Tip-off is set for 2 p.m. PT on Thursday.
Contact Teddy Solomon at tedsol ‘at’ stanford.edu