Men’s basketball in search of 2nd season win over Wildcats

Jan. 28, 2021, 1:24 p.m.

After narrowly defeating UCLA (12-3, 8-1 Pac-12) in overtime on Saturday to hand the Bruins their first conference loss of the season, Stanford men’s basketball travels to Arizona to finish its 2020-21 series with the Wildcats (12-3, 6-3 Pac-12) on Thursday. A victory against Arizona would mark the first time the Cardinal has swept the Wildcats since 2008.

Stanford enters the contest with sizable momentum following the unexpected victory over the Bruins, but numerous injuries could weigh the Cardinal down in the Grand Canyon State. Senior guard Daejon Davis has split his time this season between the active roster and the sidelines; a lower leg injury sustained in a 78-75 Cardinal victory over the Wildcats on Dec. 19 kept him confined to the bench for five games. He returned for Stanford’s road trip to the mountain states in mid-January and proceeded to drop 19 points against the Utes, but his absence from the starting lineup and his limited minutes on the floor suggested that the program was hesitant to let him return fully. 

Davis was again absent during Stanford’s bout with UCLA, leaving the Cardinal to operate without its primary point guard whose 13.1 points per game hovers among the team’s top three offensive averages. The prolonged absence of junior guard Bryce Wills, who has been sidelined since earlier this month following a knee injury, leaves Stanford without its secondary point guard as well. Wills added 9.3 points per game alongside 11 total steals in the nine games he played before his injury. Since his injury, Wills’ status has been listed as “week-to-week,” but the program has been reluctant to release a more detailed timeline for his return.

Joining the duo on the inactive list during the UCLA matchup was freshman forward Ziaire Williams. Averaging 12.5 points per game and having a hand in a team-high 36 assists over the course of the season, Williams has been instrumental in the Cardinal’s success. In the teams’ most recent meeting in December, the freshman poured in 16 points on 5-for-11 shooting, including a respectable 3-for-5 mark from behind the arc. 

With the numerous absences, the Cardinal has turned to a number of rookies and other upperclassmen to fill the roles of its regulars. Of those Stanford has relied upon, freshman guard Michael O’Connell and junior forward Jaiden Delaire have stepped up especially well. Before Wills’ injury on Jan. 4, O’Connell had never seen more than 15 minutes of court time with the Cardinal. In the team’s six games since, however, O’Connell has averaged just over 32 minutes of playing time per game operating as the team’s point guard. In the same time span, he has committed just four turnovers, demonstrating a degree of comfort as floor general that was hardly expected of the rookie.

Delaire has similarly transformed into one of the team’s main contributors, averaging 15.1 points per game since Jan. 4 and spending nearly double the time on the court. Before that, the junior added just 6.2 points per game. 

Against Arizona — should the Cardinal’s injury list remain stagnant — Delaire and O’Connell will need to join senior forward Oscar da Silva in double digits in order to secure a Stanford victory. Both the Cardinal and the Wildcats have limited opponents to 68.5 points per game, but Arizona has poured in 80.3 points of its own on average, while Stanford has averaged just 72.4. Da Silva’s conference-leading 19.8 points per game will likely lead Arizona to utilize its forward-plentiful roster to shut the senior down, making it necessary for Delaire and O’Connell to lead the offensive efforts. 

On defense, Stanford will need to contain Arizona’s five players currently averaging double digits. Junior guard James Akinjo tops the Wildcats’ stats sheet with 14.3 points per game while redshirt-junior guard Jemarl Baker, Jr. adds another 12.0 per contest. When the Wildcats visited the Cardinal earlier this season, Baker sank a game-high 29 points.  

While a sizeable portion of Akinjo and Baker’s scoring comes from inside the arc, Arizona’s freshman guard Bennedict Mathurin has demonstrated his ability to wreak havoc upon teams from long range. Mathurin has notched 22-of-49 attempts from three-point range, giving him an impressive success rate of nearly 45%. Leaving him alone around the arc could prove lethal for the Cardinal. 

Tip off is set for 7 p.m. PT in Tuscon.

Contact Savanna Stewart at savnstew ‘at’ stanford.edu

Savanna Stewart is a managing editor in the Sports section. She is a junior from Twin Bridges, Montana studying Political Science and Communication and enjoys running and playing basketball. Contact her at sstewart 'at' stanforddaily.com.

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