After a Thursday contest with USC (11-3, 5-2 Pac-12) was postponed due to a “suspected COVID-19 related issue” within the Trojans’ program, Stanford men’s basketball (8-5, 4-3 Pac-12) turned its attention to a weekend meeting with UCLA (12-2, 8-0 Pac-12). The Cardinal will battle the Bruins on Saturday at Kaiser Permanente Arena in Santa Cruz, which has operated as the team’s home away from home as Santa Clara County restrictions prevent competition in Maples Pavilion.
Momentum will be the name of the game on Saturday, but the Cardinal enters the matchup with very little. A road trip to the mountain states last week ended in losses to both Utah and Colorado, with a variety of struggles weighing Stanford down in each game.
Against the Utes, a 19-point performance by senior guard Daejon Davis was not enough to offset the damage done by Stanford’s 28% first-half field goal percentage. Senior forward Oscar da Silva dominated against the Buffaloes later that week, recording 22 points and 12 rebounds, but a 16-3 scoring run by Colorado to enter the break left Stanford in a 14-point hole it could not dig out of during the final 20 minutes.
The Bruins, on the other hand, enter Saturday’s matchup on a seven-game win streak, with the team’s most recent defeat — a 70-77 road loss to Ohio State — occurring over a month ago. Before that, the team’s only loss was in its season opener against San Diego State in November. The Bruins remain the conference’s only team that is still undefeated in Pac-12 play.
That being said, their success since has hardly manifested itself as double-digit blowouts of their opponents, aside from a 91-61 victory over Washington State. UCLA narrowly escaped Arizona on Jan. 9, securing a 81-75 win largely due to 22 points from redshirt sophomore guard Tyger Campbell. On Thursday, the Bruins edged past Cal, doing so by just four points despite the fact that the Golden Bears have recorded just two conference wins this season.
With the drastic momentum balance, taking control of the game early will be crucial for the Cardinal. Doing so, however, will be no easy task.
Six UCLA players boast double-digit averages, though senior guard Chris Smith will be missing from the team’s active roster for the remainder of the season following an ACL tear. Of the remaining five, four of the top scorers are guards, including sophomore Jaime Jaquez Jr., who tops the Bruins’ stats sheet, averaging 12.8 points per game over 14 points played. Jaquez Jr. also leads the team in steals alongside Campbell, each with 16 to their name, while Campbell reigns supreme in assists, dishing out an average of 6.4 per game.
On Stanford’s side of the action, the Cardinal has relied heavily on da Silva, who has poured in a conference-leading 19.3 points and secured 7.3 rebounds per game. Aside from da Silva, the Cardinal’s roster features seven upperclassmen, but injuries have plagued a number of Stanford’s more experienced regulars. Davis missed five games in late December and early January with a lower leg injury, and junior guard Bryce Wills later joined him on the sideline with a knee injury sustained earlier this month.
Davis returned to help the Cardinal take on the Utes, but did not start, hinting at the program’s desire to ease him back into competition. He played just 23 minutes in the game that followed against Colorado, and sank just four points in that time — an inconsistency also reflected in Stanford’s recently frequent scoring droughts. Davis continues to be one of Stanford’s scoring leaders, averaging 13.1 points per game with a 41.4% success rate from the field.
Wills’ status has continued to be listed as “week-to-week” by the program and, without him, the Cardinal has been forced to depend on a number of rookies to make up for the 9.3 points and 4.3 rebounds Wills averaged prior to his injury. Freshman guard Michael O’Connell has made the most of increased court time, averaging 30.4 minutes, 6.4 points and less than one turnover over the last five games.
Wills’ absence has also served as a significant detriment to the Cardinal’s defense, as Wills was named the nation’s best defender at the close of the 2019-20 season after having allowed just 0.613 points per possession. Against the Bruins, who rely on their guards for the vast majority of the team’s scoring efforts, younger players filling in for Wills could face significant challenges. Three-point shooting and defense will be critical for the Cardinal, as UCLA has averaged nearly seven three-pointers per game with a 38.6% success rate from behind the arc, while Stanford comes in averaging just 5.3 per game on 31.1% shooting from deep on the season.
The Cardinal is set to battle the Bruins at 2 p.m. PT on Saturday.
Contact Savanna Stewart at savnstew ‘at’ stanford.edu