TWISH: Stanford 80, Arizona 77 ('04)

Should a divorcee pull out that old wedding album? The idea of clinging to the past makes sense when discussing Stanford men's basketball, specifically what happened nearly a decade ago today.

This Week in Stanford History (TWISH) gets resurrected just in time for the ninth anniversary of Maples Pavilion's greatest moment, Nick Robinson's buzzer-beating heave to beat Arizona. And what a lifetime ago it seems. It's easy to argue that when Stanford scored the final seven points to claim an 80-77 win, it marked the last great moment for men's basketball on the Stanford campus. To wit, the ensuing years have seen the program languish under a host of related problems, including…

  • Coaching instability: The 2003-04 campaign was Mike Montgomery's 18th and final season on The Farm before his brief NBA sojourn. If Johnny Dawkins gets shown the door, the next head coach here will be Stanford's third hire since. In a weak conference (nobody seeded higher than fourth in the NCAA's in five years), Dawkins cannot be forgiven for his…
  • NCAA tournament deficiency: Montgomery collected 10 straight Big Dance trips, a streak that lasted another year under successor Trent Johnson. Monty's teams earned 16 NCAA tournament victories between 1995 and 2004. Stanford has all of two NCAA wins since then. There've been no berths at all since this happened. It's hard to make the tournament when you suffer an…
  • Overall decline: Under Dawkins, the Cardinal has enduring more losing seasons (two) than it did under Montgomery and Johnson combined (one). And it being the Bay Area, consistent losing will surely lead to…
  • Poor attendance: The once-feared Sixth Man Club would have a hard time filling a booth at the Dutch Goose. The noise-level, season-ticket roster and overall experience at Stanford Stadium hit new highs each football season. The inverse is the new normal for men's hoops, once famous for earning the kind of national praise the football team could only imagine.
  • But forget all that. Rewind nine years to back when your living room still had a VCR, (or, better yet, watch the highlights today). When you're one of only two undefeated teams left in the nation, all eyes, as in Brent Musberger, Dick Vitale, Andy Katz and 88 other credentialed media, are on you. Rick and Ilsa will always have Paris. Tiger and Elin – where's that wedding album? – will always have that afternoon nine years ago.

    Feb. 7, 2004: Stanford 80, Arizona 77

    For a game to be considered great, it must meet certain criteria.

    The stakes must be high. The stands must be packed, as rowdy fans cheer on great players from top teams. And what if the two sides call each other rivals? The game should be close. Let's say the "great" game in question turns out to be the final duel between two legendary coaches who've battled each other for years.

    This one made the cut well before Robinson went airborne from 35 feet away.

    For starters, the conference has never seen a prolonged stretch where two teams were so clearly better than everyone else. 'Zona and the Cardinal combined for six Pac-10 regular season titles, three Final Fours and a national championship between 1997 and 2004. (A year later, only a meltdown against Illinois kept Lute from his fifth Final Four.)

    Students pitched tents outside Maples Pavilion in the days leading up to the game, which would pit 19-0 and No. 2 Stanford against No. 12 Arizona. Jim Plunkett and the aforementioned Woods (and wife-to-be) didn't work quite as hard for their courtside seats. Josh Childress, Chris Hernandez, Andre Iguodala and Channing Frye were ready.

    The one thing that seemed out of place, at first glance, was the opposing coaches' footwear.

    Montgomery and Lute Olsen joined their colleagues nationwide in wearing clunky white running shoes, in honor of the Coaches vs. Cancer campaign. Camaraderie aside, this was sure to be a grudge match.

    One coach looked to avoid a season sweep against other for just the second time. The other knew the home team hadn't won a game in the series in four years. It would mark the 39th (and last) time the pair faced off from opposing sidelines. Lute, by now in John McKay/Tommy Lasorda territory as a most loathed rival around these parts, had won 27 previous meetings over Monty. Incredibly, five of those were decided on last-second shots!

    The Cardinal looked to run early. Hernandez (20 points) controlled the pace from the point as Stanford led 47-38 at the break, and holding serve to the tune of 67-58 after Arizona had pulled within two points. That's when the Wildcats found their higher gear.

    Iguodala canned a three pointer and added an emphatic dunk. Frye did the same. With Justin Davis and Matt Haryasz out injured, the Cardinal were again struggling at home against another talented Wildcat team. A 14-0 Arizona run had Stanford facing a 72-67 deficit with less than four minutes showing.

    The Cardinal dug in down the stretch. Childress reached the foul line with 43 seconds remaining. He missed the first shot but made the second. Arizona 77, Stanford 74. The Cats tried to beat the ensuing press, but a thief lurked.

    Matt Lottich's steal set up the assembly line. Textbook ball movement resulted in Hernandez, near the top of the key, finding space while dribbling to his left. He then whipped the ball to Childress, waiting in three-point range from the left corner. Bingo. Tie game, now with 23.3 seconds to play.

    Arizona chose not to call timeout. Montgomery figured his team owned momentum going into overtime. The Wildcats milked the clock while Stanford pressured. Lute stomped his sneakers and howled for a foul.

    Salim Stoudamire, who led all scorers with 24 points, looked for an opening that just wasn't there. And once Iguodala telegraphed a short pass back to his point guard, Lottich and Robinson were there to pounce. Robinson picked up the loose ball near midcourt and dribbled up court by the Sixth Man sideline as the seconds ticked down. Four... Three...

    Iguodala defended but, afraid to foul, left Robinson precious room to shoot. Two... One...

    The shot fell just as the buzzer sounded. Robinson, who'd landed softly on the Maples floor as the ball went towards the hoop, was swallowed whole by the teammates and blackshirted masses who stormed the floor. It was a miraculous shot in a season that included miracles in both the previous game and a few weeks later.

    Amid the din came spot-on words from a very biased source.

    "You don't get this in the NBA, bay-bee!" exclaimed Vitale to the ABC viewing audience.

    Will we ever get anything like it again here?

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