A sweep of the Washington schools last week sets the stage for Stanford men’s basketball (8-3, 4-1 Pac-12) to head east boasting a three-game win streak. The team will now look to stretch its successful run to four consecutive victories with a game against Utah (4-5, 1-4 Pac-12) in Salt Lake City on Thursday.
Since Dec. 19, the Cardinal has been operating without senior guard Daejon Davis, who went down against Arizona with a leg injury, about which the program has refrained from releasing many details. Stanford’s luck was further tested earlier this month, when junior guard Bryce Wills also found himself sidelined with a knee injury just four minutes into the Cardinal’s matchup against Oregon State. With Davis’ status classified by the team as “day-to-day” and Wills marked as “week-to-week,” the likelihood that the Cardinal will be facing the Utes without the duo seems almost certain.
While Stanford’s win streak despite the pair’s absence exemplifies the team’s depth and highlights its young talent, lacking both Davis and Wills could still pose significant challenges in Utah. For starters, Davis possessed the team’s second-highest scoring average before his injury at 13.8 points per game. Sinking shots was hardly the point guard’s only talent, however, as Davis tallied 19 assists over the same period. On defense, he recorded seven steals during that time.
Also a danger on the defensive side of the action, Wills notched 11 steals, four blocks and 39 defensive boards before being sidelined.
In its 11 games this season, the Cardinal has averaged 73.8 total points, while allowing a close 66.5 from its opponents. Nearly 18 points a game for Stanford have come off turnovers, making the steals swiped by Wills and Davis critical to the team’s success.
If Wills and Davis continue to sit, the roles of point guard and shooting guard will likely continue to be filled by the team’s rookie guards Michael O’Connell and Noah Taitz. O’Connell earned praise following Wills injury for averaging more than 30 minutes of time on the court over the past three games while committing zero turnovers, netting an average of 10 points per game and handing out 17 assists.
Despite O’Connell’s repeated success on the court, however, it is impossible to deny his inexperience with collegiate level play; before the Jan. 4 matchup against Oregon State, the freshman had not seen more than 15 minutes of action in one game and was netting just two points per game.
The team’s reliance on O’Connell to fill the shoes of Davis and Wills has required rapid growth by the freshman, but every new competition is a new chance for O’Connell’s comfort on the floor to be challenged. Thursday’s matchup could be particularly testing for the freshman, as Utah’s current backcourt boasts several more years of experience. Senior guard Alfonso Plummer hovers near the top of the Utes’ stat sheet, tallying 13.2 points per game. Plummer netted a season-high four three-pointers against UCLA on Dec. 31 en route to a season-high 22-point offensive performance.
Fortunately for the Cardinal, however, Utah’s main offensive threat comes from junior forward Timmy Allen, who will have to take on Stanford’s collection of upperclassmen forwards if he wishes to maintain his 15.8 points per game average. Though Allen netted a respectable 23 points again Pac-12 powerhouse No. 22 Oregon, he will be met down low on Thursday by Stanford’s senior forward Oscar da Silva, who has turned heads this season for contributions on both offense and defense.
Da Silva is among the Cardinal leaders in a number of categories, boasting 12 blocks, 25 assists and 57 defensive rebounds thus far this season. He tops the Pac-12 conference’s scoring leaderboard, sinking 19.8 points per game on 62.8% shooting from the field. Da Silva, at 6-foot-9, could be — and will need to be — menacing against the 6-foot-6 Allen in order for Stanford to take and keep control of the game on Thursday.
Junior forward Jaiden Delaire and freshman forward Ziaire Williams will also be looked to to keep Allen in check near the basket, and, with the pair averaging over 10 points a piece on the other side of the ball, will again be relied on for notable offensive showings, especially if Davis and Wills will be out of commission for the fourth straight game.
Tip off against the Utes is set for 2 p.m. PT on Thursday in Salt Lake City.
Contact Savanna Stewart at savnstew ‘at’ stanford.edu.