By Ells Boone
On the heels of its first sweep of rival Cal since the 2014-15 season, men’s basketball (12-7, 8-5 Pac-12) will play host to Colorado (15-5, 9-4 Pac-12) on Thursday. The Buffaloes got the better of the Cardinal when these two teams met back in January.
Stanford is now fully healthy, as junior guard Bryce Wills made his much-anticipated return against the Golden Bears, and head coach Jerod Haase confirmed after the game that freshman forward Ziaire Williams and senior guard Daejon Davis will also be available to play moving forward. Williams is returning after clearing COVID-19 health and safety protocols, and Davis missed the Cal contest for “not meeting program standards” while also recovering from injury.
The challenge for Haase will be re-integrating those three back into the team while still carrying forward the positive momentum the rest of the team has generated in their absence. Since Wills was injured on Jan. 4, junior forward Jaiden Delaire has stepped into the starting lineup and averaged 14.5 points per game. Freshman guard Michael O’Connell has been a steady hand at the point guard spot in place of Davis, and junior center Lukas Kisunas has filled in admirably in the frontcourt.
The Buffaloes will come into Maples Pavilion as the No. 3 team in the Pac-12 standings, having won nine of their past 12 games. Senior point guard McKinley Wright IV leads the team in points and assists, with 14.5 and 5.7 respectively per contest. Wright had 14 points in the two teams’ early season matchup. Senior forward Jeriah Horne is also a threat, averaging 11.3 points per game and leading the team in rebounds with 5.2 per game.
One storyline to monitor before tip-off will be the availability of Colorado junior forward Evan Battey. Battey injured his ankle in the final seconds of Colorado’s Feb. 6 win over Arizona. He then played limited minutes a few days later against Oregon State and is not expected to be 100% healthy come Thursday. Freshman forward Jabari Walker is out for the Buffs for the next few weeks. Walker had 11 points and eight rebounds against the Cardinal in January.
When these two teams last met, Colorado utilized a 14-0 run in the final 3:43 of the first half to establish some distance from the Cardinal that Stanford was unable to overcome. With one of the nation’s top defensive backcourts in Wills and Davis finally back in the rotation, Haase will be hoping the game will be a little closer the second time around.
The key for Stanford will be limiting Wright, as well as getting contributions on offense from sources other than senior forward Oscar da Silva, whose younger brother plays for the Buffaloes. Da Silva is currently making a strong case for Pac-12 Player of the Year, averaging 19.4 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per game, but it will take more than just him to take down one of the top teams in the conference. A win over the Buffs would be a major help in the Cardinal’s quest to return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014.
Tip-off is set for 4 p.m. PT at Maples Pavilion, airing on ESPNU.