Stanford (9-9, 2-4) entered Pullman 1-4 in conference play, and were playing without two of their top three scorers. Do-everything wing KZ Okpala was ruled out with back spasms, and Cormac Ryan was still on the bench in a boot. Luckily, they were playing Washington State.
The Cougars aren’t the worst team in the Pac-12; they beat Cal by 23 the other day. But they also dropped games to Seattle, Montana State, Santa Clara, San Diego, and New Mexico State (x2). Stanford must have also felt at home in front of their empty arena.
Washington State used hot shooting to jump out to an early eight point lead. The game was fast-paced and didn’t see its first stoppage until nearly ten minutes into the contest. It seemed someone replaced the Pac-12 officials with people who liked the game of basketball.
The Cougars sagged on the perimeter, giving Stanford all of the perimeter looks they wanted. The Cardinal couldn’t make them pay for much of the first half. Meanwhile, Washington State was catching fire, as they hit 7 early threes. Ahmed Ali was 4-4 from distance. But as the half came to a close, Stanford’s ability to score at all levels against the Cougar defense shifted the momentum, and they took a 39-35 advantage into the locker room.
In the second half Stanford built on its lead as the Cougars began to cool off. On multiple occasions, they pushed it to double digits, but were never quite able to get over the hump and put it out of reach. Their 8 second half turnovers kept the Cougars within striking distance.
With under 3 minutes remaining, freshman CJ Elleby sliced through the Stanford defense and cut the lead to 5. That was as close as WSU would get, as Bryce Wills promptly responded with a dunk, and the Cardinal foul shooting made a surprise appearance.
Stanford was led by the 16 points, 6 assists, and 5 steals of Daejon Davis. The point guard also had 6 turnovers, which continues to be a concern. Bryce Wills had a career high 13 points and 8 rebounds, as he was asked to shoulder a bigger role on offense. Marcus Sheffield added 11 off the bench, making the most of his opportunity after falling out of the rotation in recent weeks. Josh Sharma and Oscar da Silva were also in double figures.
CJ Elleby led WSU with 18 points (albeit on 21 shots) and 9 boards, as he continues his strong freshman season. Their star, Robert Franks, had a quiet 12 in his second game since returning from injury.
Stanford returns home next week to host Utah and Colorado. Both games are very winnable, and could help give them momentum as they move forward.