With a thrilling 86-77 home victory Wednesday night, Stanford men’s basketball won its fifth straight to continue its longest winning streak in 10 years. The Cardinal (11-8, 5-1 Pac-12) remain atop the conference after defeating No. 16 Arizona State (14-4, 2-4), and they move one step closer NCAA tournament relevancy.
Faced with guarding both sharpshooting Tra Holder and strong Romello White down low, Stanford head coach Jared Haase responded by throwing Kezie Okpala on Holder and senior forward Reid Travis and junior Josh Sharma on White. The strategy worked to perfection. Stanford out-rebounded the Sun Devils by 43-30 and outscored Arizona State in the paint 46-30. Okpala fought above screens and used his length to keep Holder to 3-14 from the field and just nine points, 10 below his season average.
“[Okpala] started on him and played most of the game on [Holder],” Haase said. “He was absolutely fantastic. If you look at the box score, [Okpala] did not jump out at you in terms of his numbers, but he was phenomenal, phenomenal defensively. His length is a game changer. He is about as versatile as it gets.”
The Cardinal’s new three-point sharpshooting made the trip home from Washington. Travis, senior guard Dorian Pickens and freshman forward Oscar Da Silva each drained two triples apiece in the first half. The team shot over 40 percent from downtown for the third straight game. In a sign of the way the ball was bouncing of the Cardinal, Da Silva’s second triple, with seven minutes remaining in the first, looked closer to the shot clock than the hoop, before grazing the backboard at the perfect angle and sinking through the hole.
Despite a lower three-point and overall field goal percentage, fewer rebounds, blocks and bench points, the Sun Devils somehow found themselves down only two in a game in which Stanford seemed to play at its peak.
Travis set the tone for the Cardinal in the second half, opening the frame with a three point swish off a beautiful cut and drive by Davis. On the following possession, Travis did what he does best, finishing strong in the paint over a double team. Stanford’s lead grew to seven two minutes into the half.
When Pickens canned a three with 15:40 left to play, the Cardinal jumped ahead by nine as Maples erupted.
But that was not the loudest the arena would be Wednesday night. Josh Sharma, averaging just 11 minutes per game this season, provided a rare contribution from the bench. In one of the game’s most exciting sequences, Sharma swatted away a Justice reverse layup, then threw down a one-handed slam to bring Stanford’s lead to 13. A put-back slam four minutes later brought Stanford’s lead to 15 and the home faithful to their feet again. Sharma finished the game a perfect 7-7 from the field and five dunks.
But Arizona State refused to go away. Down 15, the Sun Devils went on an 16-4 run to shave the deficit to just two with 4:00 minutes remaining. During the run, the Sun Devils successfully exploited Stanford’s free throw shooting woes (the Cardinal shot 33 percent from the line during the game’s first 36 minutes) to stop the clock and freeze Stanford’s offense. Davis finally flipped the strategy. First, he nailed two clutch free throws to put Stanford up six. The next possession, the freshman exploited Arizona State’s aggressive zone defense, finding Da Silva with a beautiful lob pass. Da Silva sealed the game two possessions later, sinking a clutch pair free throws to move Stanford up 13.
Pickens, who finished with 19 points and five rebounds on the night, remarked on the Cardinal’s ability to finish during their winning streak.
“[Arizona State is] a great team,” Pickens said. “We knew they were going to make their run and they did. For the past couple games here, we were able to weather the storm. Our ability to respond to adversity was huge.”
The Cardinal will host No. 14 Arizona at Maples on 1 p.m. on Saturday. The game will be broadcasted on CBS.
Contact Quinn Barry at qmbarry ‘at’ gmail.com.