New Year, new men’s basketball? The week in review

Dec. 19, 2021, 12:12 p.m.

“They Proved Me Wrong.”

Head coach Jerod Haase called a timeout with 1:13 left in regulation during Thursday’s matchup in Maples Pavilion. The Cardinal (6-3, 1-1 Pac-12) were facing a seven-point deficit against Dartmouth (3-6, 0-0 Ivy League). As I sat in the broadcast booth providing color commentary for the game on KZSU (Stanford’s student-run radio), I turned to my co-host and acknowledged that I did not see any outcome in which the Cardinal walked away with a win.

Lo and behold, thanks to a 16-0 run — including nine straight points from freshman forward Harrison Ingram and a tenacious dunk from sophomore forward Brandon Angel — they proved me wrong. They really proved me wrong. 

But it seems that is what this team does. They have been proving everyone wrong this week. Four days before the Dartmouth game, Stanford faced off against an Oregon team (6-5, 0-2 Pac-12) that has won back-to-back Pac-12 championships and was ranked 12th in the country by the AP poll at one point this season. Remarkably, the Cardinal prevailed. These two games have shown me that, although still far from where I want them to be, this basketball team might have more in them than we thought. These are my takeaways from this week of Cardinal hoops.

The Crunchtime Cardinal Are Built for the Moment

A buzzer-beater and an overtime victory — what more could you ask for in terms of excitement in Maples Pavilion? 

On Sunday night, senior forward Jaiden Delaire sunk a 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded to send Oregon home in fashion. Later in the week against Dartmouth, Ingram hit a shot with 0.7 seconds left on the clock to tie things up. Then, it was the Brandon Angel show, as eight of his career-high 18 points came during overtime.

These moments revealed to me that, when it comes down to the wire, this team has options. Quite frankly, I was surprised to see Haase have Ingram inbound the ball on the final play of the Oregon game — I expected the ball to be in his hands for the final shot. The experience that Delaire brings, however, made me feel foolish for questioning his play call.

Likewise, I was shocked to see the team rely on Ingram for the final play of the Dartmouth game. Delaire had a game-high 22 points and was most of the Cardinal offense. But Ingram possesses a star prowess that can’t be discounted, regardless of who has the hot hand.

Evidently, when crunch time comes around, teams will be kept guessing with regard to who will be making plays for the Cardinal. As we have seen thus far, it could be anybody.

Harrison Ingram Shows Up When It Matters Most

The freshman stud started the Dartmouth game a miserable one-for-nine from the field. Normally, his incredible versatility — rebounding, defending and playmaking, even with his 6-foot-7 frame — enables him to make major contributions, regardless of how many points he’s putting on the board. And while he was a positive on the court on Thursday, it was obvious something was off after he missed the rim on two consecutive shot attempts.

Even so, he demonstrated exactly why he’s such a highly regarded player. With one minute left in regulation, ESPN gave Dartmouth a 91.9% chance to win the game. Then, Ingram single-handedly willed the Cardinal back into the game, scoring seven points (yes, seven!) in a row, including a nifty up-and-under move that sent the game to overtime. Even on an off-night, the freshman cannot be disregarded. Ingram shows up when it matters most, and Thursday night’s game versus Dartmouth demonstrated just that.

Free-Throw Shooting Remains an Issue

Versus Oregon, there were multiple instances when the Cardinal could have pulled away. They left too many points on the board, however, starting the game 7-for-12 at the charity stripe. That kept the Ducks just within reach, and failing to capitalize on free points so many times allowed Oregon to mount a 13-point comeback (before Delaire put them away).

Against Dartmouth, free throws made Stanford’s comeback bid a lot more difficult than it needed to be. After the Big Green jumped out to a 46-34 lead, a cycle began to repeat. The Cardinal would get things close, but then fall into a big deficit again. It seemed as though every time they would get within striking distance, a missed free throw turned into an opportunity for Dartmouth, on which the Big Green always capitalized. Despite having nearly double the opportunities at the charity stripe, Stanford’s 13-for-25 performance from the line paled in comparison to Dartmouth’s 85.7% effort (12-for-14).

The Cardinal were able to put that game away in other ways. But when games come down to the wire like they did this week, they can often be decided by free throws. And if that becomes the case in the future, this Stanford team has its work cut out for it.

Stanford Opponents: How Good Have They Really Been?

Going into the Dartmouth matchup, it was expected the Cardinal would win. They haven’t lost to an Ivy League opponent since the 1980s. But an overtime victory that easily could have gone in favor of the Big Green signals that perhaps this Stanford team isn’t at the level it needs to be to remain competitive in the Pac-12.

On the other hand, Sunday’s game versus Oregon showed us the exact opposite. The preseason polls slated the Ducks to finish second in the conference, only behind a UCLA team that has demonstrated excellence dating back to its Final Four run last season. Yet the Cardinal defeated Oregon and had a significant lead for a large portion of the contest.

Of course, that this Oregon team was not the same we expected going into the season cannot be ignored. Alarming losses to BYU and Arizona State have left the Ducks far from where they want to be. So while Cardinal fans have every right to feel good about a win over Oregon, it must be taken with a grain of salt. How good the team really is — and how it can be used as a reference to understand how good Stanford is — remains up in the air.

I guess we’ll find out this weekend, when Stanford faces its biggest test of the season since squaring off against then-No. 9 Baylor. On Sunday, the Cardinal play No. 17 Texas (7-2, 0-0 Big-12), which is only their second ranked opponent thus far. Tip-off is set for 12 p.m. PT in Las Vegas.

Zach Zafran was the Vol. 262 managing editor for the sports section. Now a senior staff writer, he has previous experience reporting and writing with SFGATE. You can find Zach around campus wearing swim trunks no matter the weather. Follow him on Twitter at @ZachZafran and contact him at sports 'at'

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