Stanford’s men’s basketball team (15-6, 6-3 Pac-12) is coming off a difficult loss to Washington State after getting their best start in conference play since 2008. Now, they have a tough matchup against UCLA (13-9, 5-4 Pac-12), who is also looking to make a late-season push with just more than a month remaining until the Pac-12 tournament.
The Bruins are streaking. They handily defeated No. 13 Utah 69-59 last Thursday thanks to a big night from Norman Powell. The senior guard dropped 23 points as he successfully probed the stout Utah defense to go 9-of-16 from the field on the night. UCLA’s interior defense stood strong, as only two Utah players reached double figures in scoring.
UCLA followed its upset of Utah with another spectacular performance against Colorado. They held the Buffaloes to 59 points on 36-percent shooting from the field. The Bruins dominated inside once again, scoring 30 points in the paint and knocking down 19 of their 23 free throw attempts. Powell left his mark all over the game, finishing with 22 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists and 5 steals on 8-of-13 shooting.
These two wins displayed the type of basketball that gave the Cardinal so much trouble in their double-overtime loss in Westwood on Jan. 8. Stanford was up 14 in the second half behind stellar play from the guard combo of Chasson Randle and Anthony Brown. Then, with 10 minutes remaining in the game, UCLA went on a 19-3 run fueled by a combined 16 points from freshman forward Kevin Looney and junior center Tony Parker. The Cardinal lacked the size to subdue the Bruins’ bigs and both players ended with career nights: Looney finished with 27 points and 19 rebounds, and Parker had 22 and 12 in their 86-81 win.
Stanford has won 10 of its last 13 games and has built a top-25 offense around its talented roster. However, in each of their last 3 losses, the Cardinal built sizable leads only to squander them away in the second half.
In its most recent game against Washington State, Stanford jumped out to a 27-14 lead. The Cougars stifled the Stanford defense as Que Johnson came off the bench and provided a much-needed spark. Johnson’s tenacious drives powered the Washington State offense, forcing Brown to switch defensive assignments. Brown had kept star point guard DaVonte Lacy in check in the first half, but Lacy quickly caught fire with Brown no longer guarding him, finishing with 25 points. The Stanford defense suffered in the second half due to fifth-year senior center Stefan Nastic’s foul trouble, failing to adjust to the Cougars’ dynamic guards.
The Washington State game exposed the Cardinal’s dependence on Nastic for interior defense. The Bruins match well against Stanford because of their size advantage.
The good news for the Cardinal is that freshman Reid Travis is back from an upper-leg stress fracture. Travis played 13 minutes against Wazzu, making both of his shot attempts from the field. Though the athletic forward looked a step slow on the defensive end after being out for over a month, he complements the inside presence of Nastic and gives head coach Johnny Dawkins more versatility in the front court.
Stanford will need to play with high intensity from start to finish to avoid its first back-to-back losses since last March. Tip-off is set for 6 p.m. on Thursday.
Contact Irving Rodriguez at irodriguez ‘at’ stanford.edu.