As rain poured outside Maples Sunday afternoon, thunder roared within the stadium. In a game that came down to the very last play, the Stanford Cardinal men’s basketball team (15-14, 8-9 Pac-12) ultimately fell 62-61 to the No. 25 ranked Washington Huskies (22-7, 14-2).
The Huskies are somewhat like the Golden State Warriors of the Pac-12, standing alone atop the conference rankings. But, they have looked less than invincible recently, having just lost on Thursday to Berkeley (7-22, 2-15), a program that has lost 16 in a row prior.
Stanford was prime to pull off a similar upset today. Down one with ten seconds left, sophomore forward KZ Okpala raced down the court after a missed one-and-one free throw from Washington’s Jaylen Nowell, but could not connect on an off balance three-point shot the other way. Despite the hard fought effort, this one ultimately slipped out of the hands of the Cardinal.
“We didn’t lose the game on the last possession we had,” sophomore forward Oscar da Silva said. “Too many turnovers I would say, and we didn’t get enough good shots.”
Senior center Josh Sharma was cleaning the glass like Mr. Clean this afternoon, leading all players with 14 rebounds. The big man also led both teams in scoring and blocks, tallying 16 points and four rejections. With sophomore point guard Daejon Davis still out, freshman guard Cormac Ryan also stepped up big for the Cardinal, drilling home three threes and contributing 13 points total. Sophomore KZ Okpala, the Cardinal’s leading scorer this season, was limited to just six points and went 2-7 from the free throw line.
Stanford started off the game locked in. Defensively, the Cardinal were a brick wall down low, blocking shots and forcing bad attempts, keeping the Huskies scoreless in the first three minutes. Washington took a while to cook, but they got their rhythm going around the six minute mark. They made five field goals in a row, going on an 11-1 run. At the same time, their high zone defense frustrated Stanford’s backcourt, holding the Cardinal 0-4 from the field.
“We were certainly disappointed in the first half,” commented head coach Jerod Haase when asked about how the team handled Washington’s zone. “There were some spells where we didn’t attack properly, we got too passive.”
“We have to make plays that are aggressive and assertive, but when we get aggressive we tend to turn the ball over, and that’s where we have to grow as a team,” Haase said.
In addition to forced turnovers from the Huskies’ defense, Stanford could not buy a three-point shot to save its life in the first half, going completely barren from distance as eight attempts clanged off the rim or missed the iron entirely.
Stanford went scoreless the last five minutes of the half, allowing Washington a 7-0 run to give them a 29-23 edge going into the break.
Four minutes into the second half, the crowd erupted when Stanford finally hit a three, courtesy of junior guard Marcus Sheffield, but Washington answered back immediately with a layup by Crisp.
Following Sheffield’s three, the rest of the Cardinal squad seemed to find their touch from the outside. Cormac Ryan caught fire from beyond the arc, hitting three in a row from distance, giving the lead back to the Cardinal, 41-40.
Neither teams could miss down the stretch. With 5:30 remaining, Da Silva dished off a beautiful pass to Josh Sharma down low, who threw it down with authority. The very next play possession, Sheffield buried one more from deep, tying up the game at 54. The atmosphere at Maples grew electric as Stanford and Washington traded baskets back and forth, featuring five lead changes in the last five minutes. Stanford called their last timeout down one with 14 seconds to go, forced to play the foul game.
The Cardinal chose to foul Jaylen Norwell, who missed the free throw. All eyes were on Okpala as he weaved through the recovering Husky defense. He was met at the left wing with two Husky defenders, and forced up an off-balance three, which rolled out of the rim.
“We were facing a broken defense, and the ball was in KZ’s hands — there was nothing more I could have wanted,” commented Haas on the final play. “We just have to learn to attack the basket in that situation, and it’s my job as the coach to get the guys to understand that.”
Stanford will host rival Cal Thursday to finish off the regular season. It will be senior night, honoring Josh Sharma, who has step up in a huge way for the Cardinal this season. The game against Berkeley will be his last regular season game as a Cardinal.
“All the coaches, players, staff — anybody associated with the program will be demanded to do everything possible to make sure Josh goes out the right way,” Haase said. “He means a great deal to the program.”
Tip off is at 8 p.m. PST at Maples Pavilion.
Contact Stephen Ren at rensteph ‘at’ stanford.edu.