STANFORD, Calif. — Dorian Pickens and Michael Humphrey were both born in Phoenix, played for the same Arizona club basketball team, attended Phoenix high schools … and had Sean Miller pinging their cellphones.
Then both headed out of state for college, and both said Thursday they were happy with their decisions.
“I wouldn’t trade my experience at Stanford for anything,” said Pickens, of Phoenix Pinnacle High School. “Whether it’s the people I’ve met here or anything I’ve learned in my time at Stanford.”
If there’s any regret at all, maybe it’s on the basketball floor — because Miller’s Arizona Wildcats have never lost to Stanford despite failing to land either Humphrey or Pickens.
Ever. The Wildcats will carry a 15-game winning streak into Saturday’s Pac-12 first-place showdown at Maples Pavilion, and the last 14 of those games have happened since Miller took over in 2009-10.
That makes Pickens and Humphrey personally 0-6 against the Wildcats, and often in games that weren’t even close: Stanford has lost the six games to Arizona since their freshman year of 2014-15 by an average of 21.8 points.
But now the Cardinal is on the rise after some early season injury problems, tied with Arizona atop the Pac-12 at 5-1. Also, because Stanford is playing well and there won’t be weekday traffic for Saturday’s game, a bigger than usual crowd is also expected at Maples Pavilion.
So for Humphrey and Pickens, this may be their last best chance for that streak to end.
“Definitely,” Pickens said. “Me and Mike have been around for four years and haven’t gotten a win against them. We’re coming to our home court Saturday, there’s gonna be a great crowd and I’m looking forward to finally giving them one.”
The question is, can they?
Maybe. Except for guard Marcus Sheffield, who was lost for the season with a foot injury, the Cardinal is finally healthy. Pickens missed 11 games to start the season because of an ankle injury while dynamic freshman guard Daejon Davis, the current Pac-12 Player of the Week, missed a pair of games because of injury, too.
In addition – this being Stanford and all – the Cardinal also was without promising freshman forward Kezie Okpala for its first 12 games because, of all things, he didn’t do well enough in an AP Calculus course in high school.
Okpala said in a November statement that he had been admitted to Stanford with the condition that he keep up his grades, but said he “dropped below the threshold” in calc when the demands of three AP courses hit him last spring. He said the Stanford admissions office agreed to allow him to still enroll as long as he sat out fall competition.
It was a rough go for the Cardinal without them all. Stanford lost at home to Eastern Washington in its second game of the season, went 0-3 with a loss to Portland State in the PK80 event in Oregon, lost by eight points at Long Beach State … and let Cal come back from 17 points down to get its only Pac-12 win so far this season.
Stanford coach Jerod Haase said he never lost faith, however.
“Certainly, you can’t predict exactly what the results are going to be but I will say that I’ve had a great deal of confidence in this team consistently,” Haase said Thursday, during media interviews at Maples Pavilion. “There have been ebbs and flows and ups and downs certainly, but at the same time I’ve told the staff and the team over and over and over that I really believe in the team and what we’re building, and not to get too high or low based on the wins and losses.
“If we had lost last night (to ASU), I wouldn’t be here saying the end of the world is coming. I do believe we have a faith in the culture that we’re building.”
Now there are results, too.
Pickens healed up and Okpala served his in-house time, and the Cardinal extended its winning streak to five games by beating ASU 86-77 on Wednesday.
“I feel good, having been in six conference games already,” said Pickens, who had 19 points and five rebounds against ASU. “I feel like I’m comfortable now. I feel like our game rhythm is good, and I feel like our chemistry is improving every game and every practice.”
Now, they’re back, acting more like the team that was picked to finish fifth in the Pac-12 because of its combination of size, experience and some newfound athleticism in freshmen Davis, Okpala and Oscar da Silva.
“Especially as the season has gone on and we’ve gotten guys eligible and healthy, our experience, size and length has continued to grow in all terms,” Humphrey said. “So the matchups will continue to get better each game.”
- Arizona ran through a closed practice at Maples Pavilion on Thursday, and UA coach Sean Miller was unavailable for comment. There was no update on whether forward Rawle Alkins might play Saturday. Miller said Wednesday that Alkins experienced pain in his right foot Monday and Tuesday, then was shut down in part for his own peace of mind.
“I think he actually feels a little bit better today maybe than he did yesterday, which is a good sign,” Miller said after the UA beat Cal 79-58.