Fresh off a disappointing home loss to Arizona, the Stanford men’s basketball team is back on the road for rematches with UCLA and USC. The Cardinal (16-7, 6-5 Pac-12) currently sits three games back of conference-leading Washington and needs to complete a season sweep over both teams to stay in the hunt for the Pac-12 title.
First up for Stanford is UCLA. The Bruins (13-10, 6-5) have been one of the most disappointing teams in the country so far. As the preseason pick to win the Pac-12 and the No. 17 team in the nation, they were expected to cruise to the NCAA Tournament. Yet between the 1-4 start to the season and the dismissal from the team of Reeves Nelson, UCLA’s leading scorer and rebounder last season, the potential dream season has instead turned into a nightmare for the Bruins.
UCLA’s last meeting with the Cardinal ended in dramatic fashion, with Stanford forward Josh Huestis blocking a potential game-winning jumper by UCLA’s Lazeric Jones with three seconds left on the clock.
Stopping Jones will definitely be a priority for the Cardinal. The guard leads UCLA in both points per game and assists per game, with 13.3 and 4.4 respectively. Jones scored a career-high 26 points in the teams’ last meeting and will be looking to put on another show in front of his home crowd.
For Stanford to beat the Bruins again, it must continue its strong work on the boards. The Cardinal has been outrebounded just four times this season, and has been especially dominant in terms of offensive rebounding.
Stanford may catch a break, as UCLA forward Travis Wear missed the team’s last game with an ankle sprain and is questionable for tonight. The big man is second on the team in both scoring and rebounding. His absence would be a major blow to the Bruins, as Wear, his twin brother David Wear, and center Joshua Smith provide frontcourt depth few can match. The three average 16.3 rebounds combined per game, and would definitely put up a fight for control over the boards.
With Travis Wear hobbled, Smith has stepped up in a big way. The sophomore had the best game of his college career last Thursday against Washington, posting a career-high 24 points to go with nine rebounds. Two nights later, he had 19 points and five rebounds to lead the Bruins over Washington State.
After tonight’s test against UCLA, the Cardinal will travel to USC to take on the bottom-dwelling Trojans. USC (6-18, 1-10) has been a far cry from the team that made the NCAA Tournament last year, posting the program’s worst season in recent memory. The Trojans have won just one of their last 12 games, losing by an average of 12.5 points per game, and have more losses this year than in any year since 1994-95.
The Trojans are led on offense by sophomore guard Maurice Jones, who averages 14 points per game. The guard also averages 38.4 minutes per game, by far the most in the Pac-12. In fact, he has played the entire 40 minutes in eight of USC’s 24 games, as well as 49 minutes in an early-season overtime loss. The tough schedule could be taking a toll on Jones as the regular season comes to a close, which could account for his single-digit point totals in each of USC’s last two games.
The Trojans have also had major injury issues this year, losing five players to season-ending injuries. Their two leading rebounders, Aaron Fuller and DeWayne Dedmon, are each out, leaving them with no frontcourt depth. Just two big men remain on the roster, forward Garrett Jackson and little-used center James Blasczyk. Look for Stanford’s Josh Owens and Huestis to try to exploit this depleted USC roster.
Stanford needs to battle hard in both games in its quest to earn one of the top four spots in the Pac-12 Tournament and the first-round bye that comes with it. Head coach Johnny Dawkins said that the Cardinal has a “lose and go home mentality,” which may be just what Stanford needs in order to replicate its early-season success.
Stanford tips off against UCLA at 8 p.m. tonight and will face USC at 4:30 p.m. on Sunday.