After a hard-fought road win against Arizona, Stanford men’s basketball (10-5, 6-3 Pac-12) will be back in action Saturday as it faces an underperforming — but talented — Arizona State (5-8, 2-5 Pac-12) team.
The Cardinal’s past week has been simultaneously the most chaotic of the season and the most important of the season. After a canceled matchup against USC, the Cardinal prepared to take on the undefeated UCLA Bruins on Jan. 23. However, fans learned before the game that three of Stanford’s five regular starters — senior guard Daejon Davis, junior guard Bryce Wills, and freshman forward Ziaire Williams — would be out for the matchup.
With the dominant backcourt duo and the freshman phenom sidelined, the odds of beating then-No.24 UCLA after losing back-to-back games against Utah and Colorado looked slim to none. The Cardinal came out driven to win, with the frontcourt duo of senior forward Oscar da Silva and junior forward Jaiden Delaire scoring a combined 45 points in the one-point, 73-72 overtime victory.
Then came time to travel to Tucson to take on Arizona, and it was once again announced that Davis, Wills and Williams would not only be out against the Wildcats, but would be out against Arizona State too. Despite being significant underdogs, the Cardinal came out and played disciplined basketball from start to finish, eventually pulling out a nine-point upset victory over the Wildcats. Stanford’s 54.2% field-goal percentage (13-for-24) in the second half against Arizona fueled the win alongside unrelenting Cardinal defense in the key, where the Wildcats were held to just 14 points.
Without three key starters, Stanford has now secured its two biggest wins of conference play, so it will be interesting to see what role their absence plays on Saturday.
The Cardinal’s opponent, Arizona State, has been the most disappointing team in the Pac-12. Coming into the season, the Sun Devils were set to be a serious contender for a conference title, with one of the top freshman classes in the nation and the return of Associated Press Preseason All-American senior guard Remy Martin. Despite having immense talent, Arizona State has won just one of its past six games and has a losing record overall. Some losses for the Sun Devils include against UTEP and Oregon State — two teams that sit below 145 in the NET Rankings.
Although it has been a very challenging season for Arizona State, it is important to understand the sheer talent of head coach Bobby Hurley’s team. Martin, who was a member of the 2019-2020 All-Pac-12 First Team, is currently averaging 17.5 points and four assists per contest. Martin is supported in the backcourt by freshman guard Josh Christopher, a consensus five-star recruit who has averaged 15.3 points per game. Senior guard Alonzo Verge Jr. has also been an important contributor and leader, posting 13.6 points of his own per competition. Finally, freshman forward Marcus Bagley has been a leader in the front court and a consistent double-figure scorer.
Keys to the game
Few teams in the Pac-12 have a single player that, at his best, can single-handedly carry them to victory. Arizona State, however, is one of those teams. Stanford’s first key is to contain Martin, who could take over the game on any given night. Last season, the Sun Devils pulled off a road win at Stanford largely thanks to 24 points from Martin, and defending him on Saturday will be an especially challenging task given the absence of the star defensive duo of Wills and Davis.
The second key for the Cardinal will be to utilize its frontcourt advantage. The Sun Devils unquestionably have the better backcourt while Wills and Davis are out, but Delaire and da Silva are distinctly better than the Arizona State frontcourt. If the duo can play like they did against UCLA, then the Cardinal has a good chance of coming out on top.
The first key for Arizona State is, quite simply, Martin. When Martin has been the game’s high scorer, the Sun Devils are 4-1 this season. When he wasn’t, they are 1-7. If Martin takes advantage of the absence of Wills and Davis and plays to his full potential, Stanford will be in serious trouble.
The second key for the Sun Devils is for players aside from the star four to step up. Either Martin, Verge, Bagley or Christopher has been the leading scorer in all but one game this season. Arizona State has immense talent at the top but lacks depth, and guys like sophomore forward Jalen Graham and senior forward Kimani Lawrence will need to step up against a talented Stanford team whose bench players have gained significant experience and development amid the prolonged absence of numerous starters.
Interestingly enough, Coach Hurley removed Verge from the starting lineup, starting both Graham and Lawrence, in Thursday’s win over Cal. If the Sun Devils see the same confidence on the floor from its bench players as the Cardinal has begun to see from players like freshmen guards Michael O’Connell and Noah Taitz, Saturday could be decided by depth.
Tip-off is set for 5 p.m. PT on Saturday.
Contact Teddy Solomon at tedsol ‘at’ stanford.edu.