A career-high 25-point effort from sophomore guard Bryce Wills stunned fans in Maples Pavilion on Saturday night but was not quite enough to propel the struggling Cardinal (16-9, 5-7 Pac-12) past visiting Arizona (18-7, 8-4 Pac-12). In its fourth straight loss and seventh in Pac-12 play, the Cardinal fell to the Wildcats 69-60.
Stanford’s opening points of the contest came in familiar fashion: from standout forward Oscar da Silva. Saturday night marked the junior’s first game back since he suffered an undisclosed injury during Stanford’s recent trip to Colorado. The injury left the forward needing to be helped off the court in Boulder and sidelined during a 69-74 loss to Arizona State on Thursday, but any signs of hesitation were impossible to see in his presence on the court against the Wildcats.
“I was going against some big-time players tonight” da Silva said. “Coach Cohen told me … I better be ready to take on that challenge.”
“I came in with the mindset to attack,” he added.
In his anxiously-anticipated return, da Silva netted 3 of 7 attempts from the field — below his team-high 59% average — but found success on 9 of 10 chances from the foul line for a total of 15 points.
On the opposite side of the ball, however, da Silva struggled to stay out of foul trouble — a side effect of guarding Arizona’s 6’11” freshman forward Zeke Nnaji, who finished with 21 points to his name in 28 minutes on the floor, partly thanks to a 9-for-12 showing from the charity stripe.
Fourteen of Nnaji points came before the break, and were key to the Wildcats boasting a 7-point advantage over the Cardinal when the buzzer sounded at the half.
Just five minutes into the second half, da Silva picked up his third personal foul. In hopes of preserving the junior for a possible down-to-the-wire finish, da Silva’s time was split between the court and the bench, where he was joined for a large percentage of the final 20 minutes by freshman guard Tyrell Terry. Though Terry had posted his eighth 20-point game of the season with a career-high-tying 24 just two days earlier against the Sun Devils, only one of his five attempts on Saturday found its way to the hoop.
With the dangerous Terry-da Silva duo confined to the sidelines, it became Wills’ time to shine; of the sophomore’s 25 points, 20 came after halftime. He led the team in field goal attempts with 13 and, fortunately for the Cardinal, converted on 10 of them while adding another five points from the free-throw line on seven chances. From a minute into the second half until only 11 minutes of action remained, 11 of 12 points scored by Stanford came from Wills, who averaged just 6.4 points per game heading into the matchup.
“Bryce was phenomenal,” said head coach Jerod Haase. “He attacked the rim, played to his strengths, helped the team in every single way … [and] was an absolute star.”
As if the 25-point night by Wills — the third highest by a Stanford player this season — was not impressive enough, it came just three games after the guard went down with an ankle injury while battling the Utes in Salt Lake City. Haase was hardly surprised by Wills’ success.
“I don’t know if I have ever seen a player attack rehab … the way he has,” Haase said. “He’s been a warrior in terms of how he’s approached that.”
For Wills, however, feelings about the night were conflicting since the defeat came as the Cardinal’s seventh loss in eight games. Stanford had opened conference play 4-0 before dropping an overtime decision to USC on Jan. 18. Since then, the team’s only victory came at home over then-No. 11 Oregon on Feb.1.
“It’s still bittersweet,” Wills said. “It’s unacceptable for us to be getting swept at home, and we just need to focus for the Washington trip now.”
The road trip north could be a chance for the Cardinal to regain some of the momentum they had earlier in the season; Stanford downed both Washington and Washington State at Maples Pavilion in early January. First up will be the Huskies on Thursday at 7 p.m. PT with the Cougars following on Sunday at 5 p.m PT.
Contact Savanna Stewart at savnstew ‘at’ stanford.edu.