The Stanford Cardinal is surging just at the right time of the season, pulling off wins against eleventh-ranked Oregon and USC on Thursday while winning three of their last four games. They'll try to keep up their momentum in a clash against the lowly UCLA Bruins (15-13, 6-9) on Saturday (1:30 PM, FOX) in their final game this season at Maples Pavillion.
Academic seniors Rosco Allen, Grant Verhoeven, and Christian Sanders have one more year of eligibility remaining, so only Ian Proulx will be honored on Senior Day for his final home game. Proulx walked on the team this season, but only saw action in one game before suffering a season-ending injury. Proulx hails from a Stanford family -- his father attended Stanford, while both his mother (Barbara) and sister (Aubrey) played on the golf team on the Farm.
On the other hand, UCLA hasn't been quite as hot as of late, dropping six of its last nine games and is fresh off a demoralizing loss to the Cal Bears across the Bay on Thursday. The slide has been so rough on UCLA that our friends at Bruins Nation even proclaimed after the loss that "the UCLA basketball program has started to resemble a dumpster fire."
As a program, UCLA has fallen from grace in recent years, but especially this season. They had been picked to finished fifth in the Pac-12 and even were ranked 29th in the USA Today preseason poll, but the team has slumped to fall below Stanford to 10th in the conference.
UCLA's defense struggled to stop the Golden Bears' potent offense, allowing them to knock down 45.0% of their shots from the field. Defense has been an issue for the Bruins all season long, who are 10th in the Pac-12 in allowing 75.7 points per game. They've struggled to prevent opposing teams from pulling down rebounds, also 10th in the conference in allowing 36.9 defensive boards per game.
But it's not for a lack of size -- Stanford will have to find a way to guard 7-foot center Thomas Welsh, who has nearly averaged a double-double (11.4 PPG, 8.5 RPG). Verhoeven, a center, will likely handle most of the duties of guarding Welsh down low, and will have to stay out of foul trouble -- he fouled out of Thursday's game with 7:49 remaining.
Surging sophomore guard Dorian Pickens' ability to score will be a major key for the Cardinal. Pickens set the tone against USC, scoring a career-high 25 points, including 22 in the first half. Pickens has averaged 16 points in his last four games, and holds the biggest increase in scoring average in the conference from last season.
Despite missing Reid Travis for most of the year, Stanford's defense has been its calling card, and it showed up on Thursday, as the Cardinal held USC to its second-lowest point total of the season (64).
UCLA will counter with a pair of guards that can score, Isaac Hamilton (16.8 ppg) and Bryce Alford (16.1 ppg). Stanford will have to stop the pair on the perimeter if they want to build on their momentum -- Hamilton has drained 40.3% of his three-point attempts, while Alford has also nailed 36.3% of his tries. It won't be easy -- Stanford has struggled to defend the three this season, ranking eighth in the Pac-12 in three-point defense.
In his final game this season at Maples Pavillion, an interesting storyline to watch going forward will be Johnny Dawkins' job status. After another disappointing season, a win against the Bruins and a strong finish to the season could help him keep his job on the Farm.