The Agony and the Ecstacy... and the Agony

Saturday at Maples Pavilion was not for the faint of heart. Stanford played miserable and miraculous basketball, all in the span of a couple hours against Arizona. And then after a made-for-Hollywood script with walk-on Kenny Brown shooting the Cardinal into overtime, a post-season clinching win slipped through Stanford's fingers. It was a classic and crazy game between two archrivals.

As The Fox used to say (may he rest in peace), "When she did cartwheels she spelled WOW MOM WOW."

Simply an amazing game.  From the incredible ugliness of the first half to the most amazing 10-minute rally of the season to the final heartbreaking conclusion, Roscoe Maples Pavilion was an EKG of highs and lows today.  Adding to the drama was a backdrop of events that was made for TV – which, conveniently enough, was present in the form of ABC, Steve Lavin and Mr. Coming to You Live himself, Brent Musberger.

It was Senior Day at Stanford, and the crowd showed the love for Carlton Weatherby and Chris Bobel.  It was nice to see that their hard work in practice was appreciated, though some of the applause may have been for Weatherby's young bride (thumbs up from The Jester).

Stanford's NCAA Tournament life was perhaps on the line; an RPI entering the game of 50 or so made the Cardinal far from a lock despite numerous big wins.  A win would guarantee a spot in the Dance.  A loss would make the Pac-10 Tournament suddenly meaningful.

But the biggest story…

What was it we had for dinner tonight?
Well, we had a choice of steak or fish.
Yes, yes, I remember.  I had lasagna.

Friday brought the inconceivable (that word again) news that five Stanford players were felled by food poisoning.  Thursday's pre-game chicken was blamed and rumors that a tall, tan, white-haired gentlemen was spotted racing from Maples in the early afternoon, possibly headed northeast, are as yet unsubstantiated.  Mitch Johnson was one of the victims – he was clearly not himself and glumly watched the second half from the bench.  Fred Washington was on the list – he gamely played 36 minutes but scored only 2 points and didn't get to the foul line for only the third time this season (the first Arizona game was one of his other two).  Taj Finger played a solid 14 minutes – his finishing woes were offset by seven big boards and three assists.  Not to make excuses, but it is fair to say that a game that goes to overtime could clearly have been won if two starters hadn't spent Friday worshiping porcelain and receiving intravenous fluids.

I won't rehash the details too much.  I assume that every true Cardinal basketball fan watched the same game I did.  The lows consist almost entirely of Ivan Radenovic destroying Stanford all game long.  This was disappointingly similar to Ike Diogu killing the Cardinal's man-to-man defense a couple years ago while Stanford seemingly made no adjustments to counter the obvious mismatch.  I can barely type these two digits: 37.  As in points.  For Ivan Radenovic on OUR home court.

The highs?  Well, has any non-scholarship walk-on ever had a game like Kenny Brown did today? 4-of-9 from three is a fine day, but it was the drives and the circus shots and the steals and the defense and the water bug hustle that fired up the crowd.  Just a stupendous effort and a couple of ugly passes to the post were long since forgotten by the final buzzer.  Brook Lopez overcame a terrible first half to dominate the second half.  I only wish Stanford could have fed him earlier.  Radenovic clearly wanted no part of Lopez, and it seemed like he could have scored at will.  I've always said that the best weapon against a guy you can't stop on D is to attack him on O (Michael Jordan excepted).  Lawrence Hill was his usual silky smooth self, adding a couple of sweet bank shots and an incredible behind the backboard one handed fling to his arsenal.  Unfortunately, the 63 points put up by this trio wasn't enough.  The rest of the squad played 115 minutes for 17 points.  That is just poor no matter how we spin it.

Stanford shot 19-of-21 from the foul line, upping the season total to a more than respectable .694.  Arizona was over the limit early in the second half, and it would have been nice to really punish them at the line but it is hard to argue with the success Hill and Brown were having outside.  Plus, Radenovic backed away from Lopez' inside moves like he was radioactive.

Oh, I can't end this depressing exercise without thanking Lute Olson for continuing his tradition of giving other teams a chance to win through his adamant insistence on never fouling with a three-point lead.  Once the shot clock got inside 10 seconds, they could have sent Stanford to the line for two free throws.  Instead, Arizona played straight up defense, and a pick freed Brown for his arena-rocking three-pointer to send the game to OT.

And a nit with Trent Johnson.  He finally subbed defense for offense, a move I heartily applaud, by bringing in Finger for Hill late in overtime.  But why not also bring in Robin Lopez for Brook Lopez – isn't that an obvious move?  Sure enough, Brook Lopez picks up his fifth foul seconds later, leaving Stanford's offense crippled for the final key possession while the game could still be won.  The icing on the cake then followed, with a lineup that left Finger forced to defend Radenovic in the low post with absolutely no help.  The foul and resulting two made free throws were inevitable.  The agony of defeat.

Addendum: Steve Lavin and Brent Musberger, as well as Joe Kirchofer (not with them – he has his principles), were at the Goose after the game.  It took all my willpower to not thank Lavs for all the fond memories.  And at this point in his career, Brent is best viewed from a distance.


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