Stanford played perhaps its best half of the season today. They also played another 25 head-scratching minutes.
At their pace, a 20 point halftime lead is fairly secure. They allow fewer than 30 points per half, and conceded just 25 in the first period today. But all that calculus goes out the window when the whistles are blowing and the clock isn’t moving.
Stanford committed a flurry of fouls after the break, and USC methodically made their way back into the game at the charity stripe. A big part of that was the size inside, and the USC activity on the offensive glass. The Trojans attempted 22 more foul shots than the Cardinal, and converted a healthy 75% of their attempts.
But paying too much attention to that number ignores what was perhaps an even bigger issue, and that’s the lack of offensive execution. Things were humming along nicely in the first half, as everyone played a role in dropping a 45 spot. But they countered with just 24 in the second frame, including lengthy field goal droughts and turnovers aplenty. And as the old adage goes, the best defense is a good offense.
Stanford is an elite half court defense. But they didn’t get to play much of it in the second half, as USC took advantage of transition and semi-transition to catch them before they were set. They made hay by getting quick post-ups to Onyeka Okongwu and others before the Cardinal could deploy their fire action. And they found open shooters, who made just enough of their looks.
USC cut the lead to 8 in the opening minutes of the half, as Stanford took their time getting on the board from the field. The Cardinal had an answer, as Spencer Jones hit two more of his six total threes, and the lead was pushed back to 15. It wouldn’t last.
The game was cut to single digits with a few minutes to play, and Jerod Haase called on his veteran forward to spark the offense. Oscar da Silva answered the call, scoring 5 quick points, and seemingly giving Stanford the cushion it needed. A USC turnover with a 5 point deficit and 15 seconds remaining meant the Cardinal were leaving the Galen Center with a critical road victory. Until it didn’t.
Realistically, all they had to do was inbounds the ball successfully. Taking the ball the length of the court twice and hitting two jump shots, at least one of them a three, all in 15 seconds? That’s nearly impossible. Thankfully for USC, Stanford made it a lot more possible by throwing the ball away twice in a row.
On the second inbounds, Daejon Davis attempted to hit a home run to a streaking da Silva, but he left it short. The pass was picked off at mid-court, and Elijah Weaver hit a three with a leg kick. His free throw fell off the rim, but Stanford’s shot attempt was blocked, and the game went to overtime.
In the early minutes of the extra period, each team lost a star pivot. Okongwu and da Silva were both disqualified, which spelled disaster for Stanford. They had been running their offense through Oscar, and he had found some critical buckets. Everything floundered with him out of the game, and the Trojans used another foul on a three point attempt to pull away for an 82-78 victory.
People will no doubt blame the officials for this loss, and they weren’t perfect, but USC was simply the more physical team. Stanford didn’t seem to have an answer for them on the glass. The one questionable part, though, were the fouls on three point field goals. Leg kicks were meant to be officiated as flopping violations this season.
The Cardinal still sit in a share of the Pac-12 lead at 4-1, but if they had won, they would have been two games clear of everyone. They also more than likely would have found themselves in the AP Top 25 for the first time since 2008. That will all have to wait.
Oscar da Silva led Stanford with 21 points and 9 rebounds, and did a lot of good all around. But his foul trouble and four turnovers proved costly. Spencer Jones scored 18, all on threes, and Tyrell Terry added 16 points and 6 assists, albeit with 4 turnovers of his own. As a team, they totaled 17 giveaways, and allowed 18 offensive boards to the Trojans.
Okongwu led USC with 22 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 blocks. Jonah Mathews added 19, Elijah Weaver notched 13 of the bench, and Ethan Anderson chipped in 11.
Stanford is off until next Sunday’s game at Berkeley.