The last great moment for Stanford men’s basketball at Maples Pavilion was not in fact Nick Robinson’s 35-foot bullseye against Arizona was not in fact, as we opined two weeks ago. The final home game of the 2007-‘08 season, where a pair of top teams traded blows and went down to the wire, deserves to be unearthed from five years worth of rubble.
March 1, 2008: Stanford 60, Washington State 53
“We have the goal to win the conference championship, the (Pac-10) Tournament Championship and the NCAA Championship,” remarked Robin Lopez, once he and his clone finished their last home game at Stanford.
Expectations grew rightfully higher, both among the roster and the Cardinal fan base, after No. 8 Stanford shut out the No. 22 Cougars over the final 3:16.
The Cards put forth some of their best ball of the year while erasing a 14-point first half deficit. An 11th win in 12 games had Stanford a strong No. 2 in the conference, back when the Pac-10 made men’s basketball a priority.
Stanford and Washington State joined regular season and tournament champ UCLA in that year’s Sweet 16. Brook and Robin Lopez were among the seven players from the league chosen in the 2008 NBA Draft. Five phenoms from that group – Jerryd Bayless, the Lopez duo, Kevin Love, O.J. Mayo and Russell Westbrook – became lottery picks.
Since then, a mere five lottery picks have emerged from the conference. Arizona (2009, 2011) and Washington (2010) have reached the Sweet 16. No one else from the Pac-10/Pac-12 has escaped the second round.
But we digress. According to the day’s rumor mill, Brook was NBA-bound while Robin would possibly stay another year. Like his teammates, Brook Lopez heated up after a slow start. He collected 19 of his 25 points after halftime during the Cardinal’s biggest comeback of the season.
Brook’s putback dunk, with a chest bump and primal roar providing the exclamation points, gave Stanford the lead for good with 2:52 to play.
Trent Johnson started Brook Lopez with the departing Kenny Brown, Fred Washington, Taj Finger and Peter Prowitt. He soon went to the regular starters 2:06 into the contest, but the Cougars weren’t ready to play pushover. Derrick Low made a trio of three-pointers and scored 14 points in the opening half. He’d go scoreless thereafter.
“From the 10-minute mark on we were as good as we’ve been all year,” Johnson said.
Feb. 27, 1988: Oregon State 63, Stanford 61
TWISH normally doesn’t feature losses (or figure skating highlights), but the particulars of this heartbreaker cannot be ignored.
First, consider the game’s hero. Gary Payton remains the best defensive point guard in conference history, and he provided the game-winning shot. The Basketball Hall of Fame finalist nailed a driving layup with 20 seconds left to break a 61-61 tie.
Furthermore, Oregon State came away victorious when its five starters played all 40 minutes. Not once did crusty head coach Ralph Miller go to his bench.
“Why not, if they can win?” he pondered at the time. “You should be able to hack 40 minutes, particularly with all those timeouts for television.”
What a way for Stanford (18-9, 10-6) to see its NCAA tournament hopes all but evaporate. Todd Lichti scored 14 straight points, only to dribble off his foot with his team up by a point. Payton picked up the loose ball and scored with 2:44 remaining. It was one of five Cardinal turnovers in the game’s final minutes.
Mike Montgomery was left wondering what could have been.
“All it would have taken was one break to go our way,” he said.
Howard Wright’s dunk with 1:04 to play tied the score. Stanford still had one last chance in the final seconds. Lichti, after scoring a game-high 27 points, passed inside to Andrew Vlahov. The Aussie rebounded his missed shot with four seconds left, but Bill Sherwood forced a tie-up. Possession arrow belonged to the Beavs.
So it went for those in Cardinal red. In the Winter Olympics in Calgary that night, a Stanford Medical School student from San Jose stood poised claim the Games’ biggest prize. But Debi Thomas stumbled and settled for bronze in women’s figure skating behind East German temptress Katarina Witt.
The Cardinal trailed by as many as 11 points in the first half before clawing back. The Beavers took a 40-33 advantage into halftime, mainly on the strength of Payton. The Sacramento Bee described him as owning “a swaggering manner and shaved head,” back when both were rare for sophomores playing college basketball.
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