Stanford (15-14, 8-9) was without Seattle native son, Daejon Davis, facing the conference-champion, #25 Washington (23-6, 14-2). Yet for 40 minutes, they went toe-to-toe with the Huskies, and were a KZ Okpala prayer from a ranked victory.
Mike Hopkins’ Syracuse zone is all about making opponents play ugly, and it’s spearheaded by perhaps the best defender in the nation in Matisse Thybulle. Stanford, meanwhile, allows the 5th lowest assist rate in the country. It was a salivating matchup for those who hate offense. The result was a slugfest of a first half.
In the half, Washington and Stanford shot 32% and 27% from the field, respectively. The two teams combined for just 5 assists and went 2-16 from deep. Stanford had 10 turnovers. There was a flagrant on Josh Sharma and a technical on Noah Dickerson. Every rebound was contested, and every pass was an adventure. What more could you ask for?
Stanford scrapped its way to a 1 point advantage with 5 minutes to go in the half, but that’s when foul trouble became a serious issue. Oscar da Silva and Josh Sharma picked up their second personals within 15 seconds of each other. KZ Okpala was already on the pine with 2 of his own. The officials were calling it exceptionally tight.
That left the Cardinal with a lineup of Wills-Ryan-Sheffield-Pugh-Kisunas, one that has seen very little time together and features none of the team’s top 4 scorers. Washington promptly took advantage, closing with a 7-0 run in the final 4 minutes to go to the break up 29-23. The 52 combined points matches the 52 Stanford scored by itself in the first half on Thursday.
Somehow, the second half was called even tighter. Okpala, da Silva, and Sharma all picked up their 3rd personals within 3 minutes. Dickerson got his 3rd. Nowell was called for his 3rd and 4th. By the under 16 media timeout, the two teams had been called for 10 fouls between them.
Somewhere lost in all the whistles, there was still a basketball game being played. Stanford started the half on a 7-0 spurt, taking a 30-29 lead on a Marcus Sheffield corner 3. But shortly later, Washington took a 6 point advantage on consecutive threes from David Crisp and Dominic Green.
Every time the Huskies seemed like they might be able to stretch out their advantage still further, Stanford fought back. The Cardinal took a 41-40 lead on a Cormac Ryan perimeter flurry, capped by a falling-over three from the wing that brought Maples to its feet. From that point on, the game was as back-and-fourth as could be.
The biggest lead either team mustered was 7, when the Huskies took a 54-47 advantage. But that was immediately erased, as Sheffield hit a three for the tie, and shortly thereafter a mid-range shot for the lead. In total, there were 17 lead changes and 8 ties.
Jaylen Nowell was spectacular when he managed to stay on the court. In the final two minutes, he hit a pair of beautiful mid-range shots off isolation sets, giving the Huskies a 3 point advantage. With 15 seconds to go, an Oscar da Silva put back cut the deficit to just 1, and the Cardinal fouled Nowell with 10 seconds on the clock. The UW star missed the front end.
KZ Okpala took the rebound and bolted down the court. It was Stanford’s premier scorer against a scattered Washington defense. They couldn’t have asked for a more ideal situation. But with a few seconds still on the clock, Okpala pulled up for a double-clutch three, which fell off the rim. There was a mad dash for the rebound, but time ran out before anyone could gain possession. No upset would be had today.
The obvious thing to blame for the loss is Okpala’s shot selection on the final play, which was admittedly poor. But one play doesn’t lose a game.
“There were some spells where we didn’t attack it properly, we got a little bit passive, but in the end of the day, the real number is the turnover number,“ said Haase. Stanford had 19 giveaways on the game. They also missed 10 foul shots.
Josh Sharma had a monster performance, going for 16 points, 14 rebounds, 4 blocks, and 2 steals. He showed just about the full arsenal in his penultimate game in Maples Pavilion.
“The coaches, the players, the managers, the trainers, anybody associated with the program, it’ll be demanded that we do everything possible to make sure Josh goes out the right way, said Haase. “He means a great deal to the program. And we’re gonna compete for him.”
Sharma’s the lone senior on this team (in terms of eligibility), and one of the few holdovers from the Dawkins era. His growth and leadership this year have clearly been a big reason for the Cardinal’s intra-season improvement.
Oscar da Silva had a great game in his own right, with 15 points and 9 rebounds. He made a number of heady plays in the middle of the zone, and continues to be the best Stanford has at not getting sped up (though sometimes to a fault). Cormac Ryan added 13, including 3 threes.
KZ Okpala had a disappointing outing. The star sophomore scored just 6 points, going 2-7 from the field and 2-8 from the line. He wasn’t a major factor, which was surprising in wake of Davis’ absence.
Nowell led Washington with 13. Dickerson was the only other Husky in double figures, with 12. Thybulle added 3 more steals to his nation-leading total.
This loss is a quality one, if you believe in such a thing. Washington has been the best team in the Pac-12 this season (despite losing to Cal), and Stanford had a chance to win without their star point guard.
“I think we’ve proven night in night out, for the most part, that we have the ability to compete with some of the better teams in this league,” said Haase. “If we can put something magical together once we get to Las Vegas, then you never know what can happen.”
They still have one more game before then. The Cardinal close the regular season against Cal, who is riding a surprising two-game winning streak after 16 consecutive losses. Daejon Davis is questionable.