TWISH: Lichti, Cardinal Hammer Cal

This Week in Stanford History: A raucous crowd in a packed Maples Pavilion. Gravity-defying dunks. A humbled archrival. When Cal comes to town, this is what’s supposed to happen.

Feb. 16, 1989: Stanford 97, Cal 71

The 1988-1989 hoops team will forever hold a special place in the heart of This Week in Stanford History. Led by six seniors, the barrier-shattering team took the program to serious heights, most significantly the program’s first NCAA tournament bid in 47 years. It was games like this that stood out the most from that campaign.

From the opening basket, where Todd Lichti drove through the paint and scored on a left-handed layup, it was clear the Cardinal were on their way (to their sixth of what would grow to a winning streak of 12 games.) Stanford may have beaten better teams that season, but the Card’s demolition of the Bears offered Stanford basketball – from the atmosphere surrounding the court, to the fluid play on it – at its very best.

“Other than the Arizona game last year, that was the best crowd I’ve ever seen,” Scott Meinert said at the time, recalling the landmark takedown of the No. 1 Wildcats.

Lichti collected a team-high 25 points, most impressively a reverse dunk to cap a fast break in the second half, sending the Maples Pavilion crowd into a state of delirium. Eric Reveno added 17 for the Cardinal (20-5, 11-3), which did its best to squash any Cal (17-8, 8-6) hopes of a victory.

Stanford scored the game’s first nine points before totaling leads of 15-4 in the opening minutes and 46-30 at halftime. By the second half, when Mike Montgomery emptied his bench, the home team had stretched its bulge to 27.

“There’s no reason why we can’t have this kind of crowd all the time,” said the second-year head coach. “I think we could.”

Let’s fit this game into the Cal-Stanford context of the era. If Arizona was the Sam Kinison of the conference, the Bay Area sides were Gallagher. Cal hadn’t been to the NCAA tournament – or so much as challenged for a conference title – since the Pete Newell era of nearly 30 years prior. Decades of irrelevance greeted Montgomery’s 1986 arrival to The Farm, where jubilation greeted a 20-win season and NIT birth in 1988.

The lone true freshman on the 1988-89 squad turned down a chance to play for North Carolina. And with Adam Keefe joining the ranks, Stanford was ready to embark on a historically significant season.

Cal, to its credit, beat the Cardinal in the race for an NCAA tournament win. The Bears outlasted Indiana in the 1990 first round, while you all know what happened against Siena in 1989.

On this night, with ESPN in the house, Maples Pavilion was packed to the rafters. The milestones gathered as 17th-ranked Stanford scored revenge for a 75-64 defeat at Harmon Gym weeks earlier. The Cardinal improved to 12-0 on the season at home while collecting a season-high in points. About the only thing the home team failed to do was contain the Bears’ top scoring threat.

Leonard Taylor went off 33 points. The 6-foot-8 senior scored 15 straight points in the second half as Cal tried in vain to mount a comeback.

Yet, after all that, Stanford – at least outwardly – was refusing to discuss its NCAA tournament chances. The Cardinal’s company line was that of a baseball team whose pitcher was busy throwing a no-hitter: Don’t jinx it.

“We don’t talk about it much,” Reveno explained at the time. “We’re trying to keep it hush. We don’t want to start dwelling on our laurels. We got a special thing here and we want to keep it going.”

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