Men’s hoops takes on rival Cal in two-game series this weekend

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Coming off two consecutive losses to Arizona State and USC, Stanford men’s basketball will face California (7-12, 2-10 Pac-12) in a two-game series on Thursday and Sunday. Sunday’s game will be just the second true home game of the season for the Cardinal (10-7, 6-5 Pac-12), who returned to Palo Alto this past week after playing their first 16 games of the season away from Maples Pavilion. The team will first travel to the Haas Pavilion in Berkeley for the first game of the series.

The Cardinal have experienced their fair share of challenges this season, starting with an unexpectedly long road trip to North Carolina following Santa Clara County’s COVID-19 induced ban on contact sports. And more recently, three starters, freshman forward Ziaire Williams, senior guard Daejon Davis and junior guard Bryce Wills have all missed an extended period of time. Williams has not played in the prior four games due to a mandatory quarantine following out-of-state travel, Davis has played in just three games since Dec. 6 as he deals with a leg injury and Wills has missed the team’s last eight games with a knee injury.

However, their absences have allowed freshman guard Michael O’Connell and junior forward Jaiden Delaire to claim larger roles within the team. Delaire has shined in his starting role, playing at least 30 minutes in six of the last seven games and registering a career-high 22 points in Tuesday’s game against USC. O’Connell, who has replaced Wills in the starting lineup the past eight games, also broke out with a career-high 20 points against USC. 

O’Connell, Delaire and junior forward Lukas Kisunas will likely start in place of Davis, Wills and Williams again on Thursday and Sunday if the latter three are still unable to play.

Senior forward Oscar da Silva, a Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate who is the current Pac-12 scoring leader averaging nearly 19 points per game, was held to just nine points on 44.4% shooting against USC. He has struggled with fouls multiple times this season, fouling out twice while also being limited to just 24 minutes against USC due to four fouls. Delaire and O’Connell filled in admirably last game but must be prepared to perform at that same level again against Cal in order for the Cardinal to snap their two-game losing streak.

Cal’s Matt Bradley figures to be the Bears’ leader on the court in both games. The junior guard, who missed multiple games with an ankle injury earlier this month, is averaging 18.2 points per game and has scored at least 20 points in two of his three most recent games since returning from injury. Despite missing numerous starters for at least one game this season, the Bears have made 142 three-pointers this season, good for second best in the Pac-12. Grad transfers Makale Foreman and Ryan Bentley own the most and second-most number of three-point shots in the conference with 39 and 38, respectively. 

The teams match up fairly evenly in most statistical categories, with Stanford holding an edge in offensive points per game (72.2 ppg versus 68.7 ppg), free-throw percentage (74.7% to 67.2%) and steals per game (7.1 to 5.1). On the other hand, the Bears shoot close to 34% from behind the arc while Stanford shoots just over 31%, and Cal only turns the ball over 13.2 times per game while the Cardinal are averaging 15.6 turnovers per game.

Cal has found recent success over the Cardinal on the basketball court, winning two of the teams’ three matchups last season. Last March, the Cardinal saw their season come to an end with a 63-51 loss to the Bears in the first round of the Pac-12 tournament, one day before the pandemic put an end to the remainder of the NCAA basketball season. That win earned Cal head coach Mark Fox his 300th career victory.

Thursday’s game will tip off at 6 p.m. PT from Berkeley and Sunday’s game will begin at 7 p.m. PT in Maples Pavilion. The games will be shown on ESPN2 and FS1, respectively.

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Sofia Scekic is a desk editor for the sports section. She is a junior from Wisconsin studying Public Policy. An avid Green Bay Packers fan, she has not missed a game in nine years. Contact her at sscekic 'at' stanforddaily.com.