TWISH: MBB breezes by Oregon ('98), Cal ('01)

It's a head-scratcher, determining if the 1997-98 Stanford basketball team is better than the group that followed three years later. The pendulum swings back and forth. This Week in Stanford History explains...

Who would you pick? Consider the particulars:

1997-98
Record:
30-5 (15-3 Pac-10)
Starters: Art Lee (G), Kris Weems (G), Pete Sauer (F), Mark Madsen (F), Tim Young (C)
Top reserves: Ryan Mendez (G), David Moseley (G), Pete Van Elswyk (F)

2000-01
Record:
31-3 (16-2 Pac-10)
Starters: Mike McDonald (G), Ryan Mendez (G), Casey Jacobsen (G), Jarron Collins (F), Jason Collins (C)
Top reserves: Curtis Borchardt (C-F), Justin Davis (F), Teyo Johnson (F)

This Week in Stanford History examines two stellar outings for these all-time heavyweights. By this point of the season, each had asserted itself as one of country's best. School records threatened to fall, while opponents weren't in danger of simply losing. These Stanford teams had the ability to embarrass the competition. To wit:

Jan. 13, 2001: Stanford 100, Oregon 76 Oh what might have been? This Cardinal edition entered the NCAA tournament as the country's top-ranked team, despite being without Borchardt for weeks due to a foot injury. Davis was never a big factor in the Big Dance due to his own injury woes. We here at The Bootleg will forever wonder how the Elite Eight matchup against Maryland would have turned out had those two been available and at their best.

But in strafing the Ducks, No. 1 Stanford showed how mighty it could be at full strength. Oregon felt obliged to play up-tempo. Stanford responded without mercy.

Everyone contributed, with Jason Collins totaling a career-best 24 points and McDonald tallying seven assists to just one turnover. Davis went for 10 rebounds and several rim-rattling dunks. Borchardt had 11 points. The Cardinal expanded its lead to near 20 points just before halftime and was never threatened thereafter.

Oregon (10-2, 1-2) coach Ernie Kent tried to find bearings afterwards. In time he'd build a formidable group that would win the Pac-10 regular season crown a year later. This afternoon was one for the Ducks to forget.

"If you take away the threes, you give them the inside," he said. "If you take away the inside, you give them the threes." Indeed, the Cardinal shot 52.5 percent from the floor, while making six of its 11 attempts from three-point range.

Stanford (15-0, 4-0) moved four wins closer to breaking school records, set by the 1998 group, for consecutive victories and best start. The Cardinal would eventually win its first 20 games in the final season, before the Pac-10 came back to life. The team's only regular-season losses occurred against Arizona and UCLA, teams which joined USC in reaching the Sweet 16.

The Ducks actually took an early lead before Stanford responded. Borchardt drained a 15-foot jumper from the right side, and then Jacobsen buried three-pointers on consecutive trips down the floor, to turn the early deficit into a 24-15 advantage. The scenario was a welcome shift from two nights earlier, when Oregon State tried a slow-down pace in the Cardinal's 73-49 victory.

"Any time you can play a 100-point game, give me the ball, Jacobsen said. "I'll go out there."

Jan. 10. 1998: Stanford 84, Cal 74

Good fortunes in January foreshadowed what would occur several months later when the games really mattered. Behind 18 points from Lee and 16 apiece from Young and Weems, Stanford (14-0) joined Utah and North Carolina as Division I's only unbeaten teams. Come late March, each of those three squads would reach the Final Four.

The No. 7 Cardinal held on at home over the Bears thanks to shooting 57 percent from the floor. Cal's Geno Carlisle scored 22 of his 25 points in the second half, but it wasn't nearly enough to keep Stanford in check.

It had long become clear that's Stanford's overall balance had offset the graduation of Brevin Knight to the NBA. Lee was busy affirming that notion in Knight's old point guard slot. He collected four assists against Cal while also burying a key three-pointer with 4:16 remaining to give the Cardinal a commanding 73-61 edge. He'd score seven more points before the final buzzer.

Young added eight rebounds as the Cardinal totaled 31 points from its post positions despite the absence of an injured Madsen. Of the team's 24 baskets, 19 were set up by assists.

"That's what makes our team so dangerous," Young said. "We have a lot of capable players at different positions."


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