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UCLA eliminates Stanford, 79-72

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Cardinal sent packing in first round

NCAA Basketball: Pac-12 Conference Tournament-Stanford vs UCLA Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

For the second straight year, Stanford’s (15-16, 8-10) season was ended by UCLA (17-15, 9-9).

The Cardinal got off to a sluggish start, which was a theme this year. The Bruins scored the first 7, and the Stanford offense was completely stymied. Over the first seven minutes, they went just 1 of 12 from the field and committed four turnovers. They were able to make a run to tie it at 11, but that was the last time it felt like they had a chance.

Interim coach Murry Bartow suggested that their switch to man defense was a major catalyst for their defensive success. “We just felt as a staff it would help us maybe early in the game to give us a little more pop and juice,” said Bartow. They made the switch late in their loss to Utah last week, and liked what they saw. It paid immediate dividends today.

Jaylen Hands had a big first half. One of the stories of the game was the return of Daejon Davis, but he was evidently not full strength and the Bruin point guard capitalized. Hands went for 13 points and 6 rebounds in the first period, including a bank-in floater with time running down. He put his team up 36-22 at the break.

It’s hard to believe that this Stanford team put up 104 against UCLA less than four weeks ago. They went just 8-35 (22.9%) in the first half, and made only 1 of their first 18 three point attempts. At one point late in the game, they were sporting shooting splits of 24-5-54. The lead swelled to as much as 26.

The Cardinal made a furious rally late, getting the lead to as little as 5. Still, the game pressure on UCLA was never very substantial. Stanford made 6 consecutive threes and caught a few breaks, but the Bruins simply made too many free throws to ever put the outcome in much doubt.

KZ Okpala had a disappointing game. The Bruins held him to 9 points on 4-13 shooting, and he was met with early foul trouble in the first half. He was never able to get in any kind of rhythm, and it evidently left him frustrated. Coupling that with Daejon’s scoreless 11 minutes of action spelled doom for the Cardinal.

Stanford’s elimination meant the end of Josh Sharma’s career. As the buzzer sounded his teammates embraced him. He clearly has meant a lot to this program.

“He’s a heck of a player and a heck of a person,” said Coach Haase. “And he has a wonderful personality, a wonderful disposition, even when times weren’t going well.”

“I just love Josh. He’s a great teammate, great person,” added Marcus Sheffield. “I’ll miss him.”

Sharma went for 18 points, 13 rebounds, and 4 blocked shots. Sheffield had a season-high 18 points, including 4-7 shooting from deep. Hands led UCLA with 22 points and a career-high 11 rebounds. Chris Smith added 14 on 6-7 shooting. Kris Wilkes and Jalen Hill scored 12 apiece.

Sharma was the only senior on this young roster, though there are other players who may opt to leave. KZ Okpala is considered a first round pick by many, should he declare. Sheffield is also eligible to grad transfer with his fifth year of eligibility. Quite a lot could shake out before next season tips off. But hopes are still high, at least internally.

“I think Coach Haase is a heck of a coach,” said Sharma. “I’m really excited to see where this program goes in the future.”