Securing its fourth consecutive win, Stanford men’s basketball moved to 5-2 (1-0 Pac-12) in what can only be described as a remarkably unique season. The Cardinal narrowly edged past California State University Bakersfield (3-3, 0-0 Big West) for a 63-50 victory Monday evening in Santa Cruz.
Seventeen points from freshman forward Ziaire Williams led Stanford’s offensive efforts, although Williams netted just 4-of-12 attempts from the field and none of his two launches from behind the arc. The freshman’s struggles to sink shots during the action were counterbalanced by his success at the charity stripe, however, where he went 9-for-10.
Yet for Williams, being at the top of the team’s offensive stats is just a stepping stone, not a final destination.
“I still really haven’t had a game where I’ve been completely satisfied, but I know it’s coming,” Williams said of his performance. “I’m just sticking with the process and trusting my coaches and teammates to guide me, and we’ll be alright.”
Williams was hardly the only Cardinal to spend significant time at the foul line, thanks to an astonishing 35 fouls called against the Roadrunners. Junior guard Bryce Wills also found himself with 10 chances at the line but only managed to capitalize on four of them, though he added 10 points from elsewhere by the final buzzer. Sophomore forward Spencer Jones and freshman guard Noah Taitz added another three points each from the stripe — each on a 75% success rate — while da Silva sank his own pair of free throws over five attempts.
Though Stanford did acquire 21 total points at the foul line, the team did so shooting just 61.8% — a far cry from the Cardinal’s 24-of-31 (77.4%) showing against CSUN on Dec. 15. The challenges at the charity stripe ironically reflect a pattern of inconsistency all too familiar to the Cardinal, one that has caused Stanford’s stats to range from 51.7% shooting against Alabama on Nov. 30 to an atrocious 39.2% mark the next day against UNC, from a 60% field goal percentage last week against CSUN to a less-than-stellar 45.5% on Monday.
The Cardinal may have ended the night shooting a modest 20-for-44 from the field and securing a narrow win, but the team’s offensive performance in the first half and from behind the arc in general was all but worthy of praise. Stanford was just 9-for-26 from the field and 1-for-8 from deep when the buzzer sounded at halftime, reflective of multiple scoreless stretches by the Cardinal, including a three-minute-long drought featuring four Stanford turnovers and a trio of missed shots.
With just an eight-point lead at the half, Stanford appeared weighted down by its errors for the greater part of the opening 20 minutes as well as the initial moments of the second half, though the Cardinal managed to find its footing and capitalize on 11-of-18 second half attempts for a much-improved 61.11% success rate.
Adding insult to injury, the Stanford squad already known for its butterfingers could not refrain from turning the ball over. For its second-highest number of single-game turnovers, the Cardinal committed the crime 21 times, though the Roadrunners matched Stanford in the category, with three steals a piece by Wills and Taitz partly responsible.
The cause for Stanford’s widespread misfortunes is hard to pinpoint, as the team has been repeatedly forced to adjust its plans amidst unusual circumstances posed COVID-19 restrictions. Stanford opened its season on Nov. 30 at the Maui Invitational, but has yet to return to campus since due to Santa Clara County’s ban on contact sports as well and implementation of a 14-day quarantine requirement following travel of more than 150 miles from the area. As a result, the team spent time in North Carolina to continue training before traveling to Los Angeles earlier this month and finally to Santa Cruz for last Saturday’s Pac-12 action against Arizona. Monday’s mediocre performance could be reflective of the exhaustion and stress caused by spending over three weeks on an unexpected extended road trip.
Additionally, the Cardinal was forced to operate without senior guard Daejon Davis, who left the Arizona game on Saturday with what appeared to be a leg injury. Davis produced the team’s second highest average points per game heading into the contest with the Roadrunners, posting 13.8 points over five games played. The senior sat out of the Dec. 15 meeting with CSUN for undisclosed, non-injury reasons.
Despite the dull performance by the Cardinal — which one might argue was interrupted momentarily by a dazzling alley oop from Williams to Wills in the second half — head coach Jerod Haase recognized the benefits the rapidly arranged game posed for Stanford.
“This game was perfect for us,” Haase said. “Not easy, not pretty, but perfect.”
“I think we needed those refs, we needed that pressure — some of those things we can’t replicate in practice,” he continued. “Having that experience going into Pac-12 play I think is fantastic.”
Next up for Stanford is a 10-day break from competition before a Dec. 31 meeting with Oregon State in Corvallis to continue Pac-12 action.
Contact Savanna Stewart at savnstew ‘at’ stanford.edu.