Before the game, Stanford (15-15, 8-10) honored its two seniors: team manager Ryan Cole and star center Josh Sharma. It was an emotional moment. Sharma was flanked by his parents and other close family members, and a recording of Coach Haase played where he talked about how much Josh has meant to the program. Such a thing was sure to light a fire under the Cardinal and get them going out of the gate. But it didn’t.
Cal (8-22, 3-15) jumped to a quick 19-2 lead, mostly led by the 7’3” Connor Vanover. The lanky freshman went 6-7 in the first half, including 4-4 from deep. He came in averaging just 6.8 points on 31% three point shooting, but today he looked like a skinnier Kristaps Porzingis.
The Stanford offense was completely stymied. They went one 5 1⁄2 minute stretch without a point, and made 1 of their first 9 from the field. The absence of Daejon Davis clearly hurt. Other than KZ Okpala, no other player made a field goal until the 6 minute mark of the half. There was poor ball reversal against the Cal zone, and a poor effort of entering it to the high post. Stanford settled for perimeter looks, where they went 0-12.
Cal led by as much as 19, but Stanford made it a bit closer, in part thanks to a personal 7-0 run by Okpala. With the clock ticking down on the first period, Stanford turned an Oscar da Silva block into a runout dunk for Okpala. The lead was cut to 10, leaving just 4 seconds on the clock. It seemed as though that would be the score at the break. But Cal quickly advanced the ball to the sharp-shooting Matt Bradley, who banked in a 35+ foot prayer at the buzzer to give the Bears a 37-24 advantage.
Stanford finished the first period shooting just 35% from the field and turning the ball over 8 times. Cal, meanwhile, went 6-10 on threes, good for a +18 advantage from deep.
The second half offense could not have started worse for Stanford. They turned the ball over on 5 of their first 6 possessions, and struggled to even get shots up. “We’re pretty good when we get shots. We just have to make simpler plays,” said Coach Haase.
But they weren’t that good when they got shots. In fact, they started 0-21 from deep, looking poised to set the NCAA record (0-26) for futility. Cal made 8 threes in the first 22 minutes. “I thought we got good looks for the most part,” said Jerod Haase.
Stanford trailed by as much as 21 in the second half, and had a difficult time chipping into the deficit. With 6 minutes to go, they still trailed by 16. But that’s when the offense finally woke up. They broke off a quick 7-0 run, including their first three pointer, but Cal answered it by pushing it back to 13.
Still, the Cardinal weren’t ready to quit. They finally started making threes, led by Cormac Ryan. A quick 10-0 burst cut the lead to 3, and Stanford had time to play defense without fouling. But Justice Sueing broke down the defense, Sharma over-helped, and Vanover was there for a dumpoff and and an easy and-one layup.
The Cardinal still had chances after that, including when they were down 4 and Cormac Ryan had a clean look for three. But it wasn’t to be, and Cal completed the shocker.
This was Cal’s third straight win after a 16 game losing streak. It was also their lone road win of the year. Stanford entered as an 11 point favorite even without Daejon Davis. “They played better than we did,” said Josh Sharma.
“I told Josh that I’m sorry,” said Haase. “We have a lot of people in that locker room that feel bad.” It was indeed a difficult senior day, but there were still positive aspects.
“[Sharma] means everything, man. Especially for younger guys like me,” said KZ Okpala. There were messages from former teammates like Michael Humphrey and Christian Sanders. The one thing they all iterated was how hard of a worker Sharma is, and how much he took coaching to heart. He has been a great leader and role model in the program.
Connor Vanover finished the game with 24 points, 5 threes, and 6 blocked shots. His previous career highs were 18, 2, and 3, respectively. Paris Austin added 15 and Matt Bradley put in 14.
Stanford was led by the 21 points and 8 rebounds of Okpala. The sophomore wing also had 6 turnovers. Josh Sharma had a double-double in his final game in Maples, going for 11 and 13.
Both teams will look to Las Vegas and hope for a magical run of 4 wins in 4 days. “We’ve been looking ahead to the tournament for a lot of the year,” said Haase. “We feel like we can make some noise.”
They may have to do so without Daejon Davis. He is still considered questionable, but he has yet to practice. The Cardinal will play their first game on Wednesday, and will likely enter as the 10th seed.