TWISH: Stanford Slows it Down

Some moments in Stanford history are far from “great.” They live on in a different status altogether, in the “amusements” section, where the strange/sad/true are preserved. This is one of those moments.

Jan. 28, 1980: Oregon State 18, Stanford 16

It’s impossible to describe Stanford basketball of this period without brutally unflattering terms. Just the name “Dick DiBiaso” alone is enough to inspire dread.

Longtime Bootleg readers surely remember our “Card Killers” feature from around 1996. DiBiaso’s name was listed alongside Stanford dream-destroying luminaries like Ron Yary, Cristin McLemore, and Tommy Maddox. The piece described a man whose Stanford teams compiled a 29-85 record (.254) in conference play as “our own inept former hoops coach”.

The fifth of DiBiaso’s seven years played out true to form in 1980. It mirrored the other six, none of which ended with Stanford finishing higher than seventh in the conference standings. The Cards (3-13--1-7 coming in) had lost four straight in a streak that would grow to eight games, despite the best intentions of Kimberly Belton (18.7 points, over nine rebounds per contest that season) and Brian Welch (14.5, 3.9.)

On the other side stood the conference’s premier team of the post-John Wooden, pre-three-point-line era. Ralph Miller’s second-ranked Beavers grabbed a 6-0 lead by the 11:30 mark, when much of the regional television audience was probably reaching for their TV dials. So began the Great Slowdown, one of the more unique outcomes in Stanford sports history. “Stanford was off and stalling,” current ESPN writer Ivan Maisel wrote in his Stanford Daily account of the game.

“Why the delay? Because we're the last-place team in the conference and they're the second-best team in the nation,” DiBiaso explained afterwards. “As long as (Oregon State) played the zone [defense], we were willing to delay. But we would have played a controlled-tempo when they switched to man-to-man. They have great quickness.”

College basketball stood as an unforgiving world in the early-’80s. In place of equalizers that soon transformed the game – the shot clock, the three-point line, the growth of ESPN – barriers existed to prevent upward mobility. If a program lacked all three major keys to success (coaching, facilities, tradition), its chances of success were slim.

“Great quickness is something the Cards greatly lack,” the Daily said. “The only way they had a chance to win was to make Oregon State play the way Stanford wanted to play – slowly.”

So it went for the Cardinal, which in turn languished alongside the Pac-10’s damaged hoops reputation.

Larry Brown took UCLA to the 1980 NCAA title game against Lousville. The Final Four that year featured an Iowa side led by Lute Olson, who guided Arizona to a No. 1 ranking and a Final Four in 1988. In between, the Pac-10 won just six of 23 NCAA tournament games, an unmatched record of basketball futility for the “conference of champions.” It would take years for the conference to reverse that perception as a hoops milquetoast.

So while the Pac-10 soon fought to be the third-best basketball conference in its own time zone, Stanford battled the Beavers in front of over 5,000 fans on a Monday night at Maples Pavilion. The Cards’ first basket – a 25-footer from Welch – came 10 minutes after the opening tip. The crowd responded with a standing ovation.

Oregon State reacted to the stall tactics in an undisciplined fashion. The Beavers hurried their shots and stood in a 12-12 deadlock by the first half’s final seconds, when Welch drained a 20-footer to put the Cardinal ahead by a deuce. Was this really happening?

The pace continued throughout the second half, but Stanford could have done more to build on its chances. Belton, a scoring threat whose name still exists prominently in the Cardinal record book alongside Todd Lichti and Casey Jacobsen, didn’t take a shot the entire game. Stanford’s Doug Marty led all scorers with six points.

After Oregon State tied the score early in the second half, six minutes went by without another hoop, with Stanford controlling possession for the majority. The two teams traded baskets, but Oregon State’s Tony Martin converted a backdoor lay-up with 9:58 remaining. It would be the last score of the contest. The Beavers held possession for seven minutes without shooting in the meantime.

Stanford had one last shot to extend the game, when Belton pulled down a defensive rebound with 1:34 to play. The Cardinal held for the last shot. But with nine seconds left, Welch drew contact from a defender, only to be whistled for traveling. The bad luck continued for the home side, mired in a stretch of 16 losses in 17 games that season. Not since a 25-18 loss to Michigan State in 1935 had Stanford basketball played in such a low-scoring affair.

“I didn’t really expect them to come out with this type of game,” Miller said afterwards. “But you play the best way you can win.”

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