For the fans at Maples Pavilion today, there may have been some serious ambiguity as to whether they truly were watching seniors Chris Hernandez, Dan Grunfeld, Matt Haryasz and Jason Haas on their home floor for the last time. This afternoon's contest against UCLA was marked as the annual "Senior Day" for Stanford Basketball. The 75-54 defeat was not only an unsavory senior send-off, it was also the worst home loss for a Cardinal squad in the last decade. That infamous honor previously belonged to the 2001-02 team that dropped a 19-point loss to USC (77-58) four years ago. The last time a Stanford squad lost by 20 or more points at Maples Pavilion was an 86-61 defeat to Jason Kidd and California in 1992-93, when the Cardinal finished with just seven wins on the season.
Stanford now stands at 15-12 on the year, a decidedly mediocre record that is even worse upon consideration of the abysmal preseason performance (4-5) and overall dreadful road record (4-8). There is no chance that the Cardinal can continue their streak of 11 straight NCAA Tournament appearances with an at-large bid. Instead, Stanford will have to win three games next week at the Staples Center in the Pac-10 Tournament. Seeded #5 in the conference postseason bracket, the Cardinal would likely have to defeat Arizona, UCLA and Washington - teams against which they are a combined 1-5 this year.
So, we come to terms with a probable NIT fate for Stanford, missing the Big Dance for the first time since 1993-94. The silver lining for Cardinalmaniacs™ might be a chance for one or more home games in the invitational postseason tournament, with their beloved seniors suiting up again at Maples Pavilion. Unlike the NCAA Tournament, the NIT does not feature games on neutral floors in the opening rounds. Surely, Stanford would be smiled upon as a premier team in this secondary postseason tournament, and thus earn a home assignment in their first NIT game.
However, the Stanford administration has told the NIT that should the Cardinal be an NIT participant this year, they would prefer not to host any games at Maples Pavilion. That means Stanford fans will have to either travel or watch their Cardinal seniors on television for the remainder of the 2005-06 season.
There is little obvious motivation for the Stanford administration to unilaterally send the men's basketball team on the road for the NIT. The games of the National Invitational Tournament played at non-neutral sites, from the opening round through the quarterfinals, all take place during Stanford's dead week and final exams week of the winter academic quarter.
Instead, this decision came from within the team. Though the comfort of playing one or more games at home might give Stanford an advantage in their putative NIT run, the shadow that could cast over today's ceremony for the players and their families was apparently too unpalatable.
"That was the idea - to have this Senior Day for the seniors and have that be the last time on the court," says Haryasz. "It was the seniors and the team, really. It was everybody's decision."
Thus, today was a true and final farewell to Stanford's seniors. There apparently will be no postseason opportunity to watch #11, #20, #32 or #52 play again in Maples Pavilion. That makes today's performance all the more disheartening. Unable to defend, score, rebound or take care of the ball, the Cardinal will have to live with this 21-point defeat as their final Maples Pavilion memory for four beloved seniors.
"We just got thoroughly outplayed," Grunfeld laments. "I know that's not how we wanted our last game to go at Maples. That's a little disappointing."
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