Stanford (10-12, 4-7 Pac-12) continued its strong run against Utah (15-10, 8-5 Pac-12), surviving a second-half comeback to win 78-72. Senior forward Spencer Jones led the team with 22 points, with three other Cardinal players reaching double digits.
After four straight wins, three of which were against Pac-12 opponents, Stanford faced the biggest test of its recent play against the Utes. Coming in as 8-point underdogs, the Cardinal arrived in Salt Lake City ready to prove their recent hot streak was more than just a fluke.
The first 15 minutes of the game were evenly matched, with both teams trading baskets, but neither able to pull away. With the score tied at 24, however, Stanford started to put together a run. Led by Jones and junior guard Michael O’Connell, the Cardinal outscored Utah 22-7 in the last six minutes of the first period. To cap it off, graduate student guard Michael Jones was able to draw a foul on a 3-pointer with time running out, cashing in all three free throws to put Stanford up 46-31 at the half.
The Cardinal’s quality first-half display came down to shooting and defense; they went 7-10 from beyond the arc, with the Joneses accounting for five combined. Stanford also held Utah to 35.7% shooting from the field and scored 10 points off of the Utes’ six turnovers.
Unfortunately for the Cardinal, they couldn’t coast to a victory off of their first-half performance. Utah came out of the break looking like a new team, knocking down four-straight threes to cut the lead down to 6 points. Despite their hot shooting in the first half, Stanford only attempted two threes in the first seven minutes, missing both, until junior forward Max Murrell ended the dry spell from long distance with his first points of the game.
Due to good offensive rebounding and a myriad of unforced turnovers from the Cardinal, the Utes made it a one-possession game with 12 minutes left. Stanford needed to wake up, and they did: O’Connell scored twice to extend the lead, and Spencer Jones hit two threes to put the Cardinal up by 9 with two minutes left.
It wasn’t over yet, however, as Utah guard Lazar Stefanovic hit two 3-pointers in quick succession to drag his team within 4 points with less than 40 seconds left. But in a desperate attempt to steal the ball with time ticking down, Stefanovic fouled out. He left the game with 26 points, forced to watch on from the sidelines as Stanford players hit their game-clinching free throws.
The second half wasn’t pretty, but make no mistake, this is a big win for the Cardinal. It is their first road victory of the season, and only their second quadrant two win. The first half of this game showed that when they move the ball and fight for rebounds, Stanford is a quality team. The Cardinal’s postseason hopes might be dashed due to the team’s poor start, but gaining momentum going into the Pac-12 tournament may give the team a desperation heave.
Stanford next plays Colorado (13-11, 5-8 Pac-12) in Boulder, Co. on Sunday, with tip-off set for 4 p.m. PT.