Following a devastating road trip through Washington, the Stanford men’s basketball team hopes to right the ship Sunday when it travels across the Bay to take on rival California.
The Cardinal (15-5, 5-3 Pac-12) has cooled off considerably following its 10-1 start, going just 5-4 since beating USC at home on Dec. 31. The recent struggles have dropped Stanford to fifth in the conference, although the weakness of the league leaves the Card just one game back of first place.
Stanford has suffered from the injury woes of sophomore forward Dwight Powell, who has not been able to progress as expected. The absence of a healthy Powell has noticeably hurt the Card’s frontcourt depth. However, Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins is confident that his highly touted recruit will be able to contribute during the latter half of the conference schedule.
“We don’t like to make excuses, but the young man has gone through a lot with his ankle, with his heel,” Dawkins said. “He hadn’t re-injured it in quite some time, so it’s been able to heal properly. He’s starting to get back to form, which is exciting for us.”
Cal (16-5, 6-2), which currently holds a share of the Pac-12 lead, had won four consecutive conference games before losing a shocker to Washington State on Saturday. The Golden Bears are led by sophomore star Allen Crabbe, who averages nearly 16 points per game on 45-percent shooting from behind the arc. Crabbe has eclipsed the 20-point mark six times this season.
Stanford must improve its three-point shooting this weekend. The Card has connected on just seven of its previous 32 attempts from distance.
The lone bright spot for the team last weekend, senior forward Josh Owens, did not miss a shot from the field against Washington State but managed just eight attempts. Look for Stanford to feed Owens early in order to limit its reliance on perimeter scoring.
“Josh is having a terrific season,” Dawkins said. He’s been a senior leader for us. He’s really been our most consistent player night-in and night-out. And he’s really happy with his overall development. He’s worked extremely hard this off-season, and I think it shows in his play.”
Owens and the rest of the squad will need to bring their top game against the Bears. Despite its five losses, Cal — which boasts three players averaging at least 13 points per game — is the most talented team the Cardinal has faced since its six-point loss to No. 4 Syracuse in November.
“Cal is a good basketball team,” Dawkins said. “You know they’re going to execute very well offensively. They’re a very good defensive team. They just play sound basketball.”
Incredibly, with a win on Sunday and a little bit of help, Stanford can find itself back atop the conference as quickly as it surrendered its lead. The game tips off in Haas Pavilion at 5:30 p.m.