A Wrap on Rupp

After returning home from Lexington, covering the women's NCAA play and putting to bed the next issue of our magazine, we can now empty out the notebook of assorted stats, notes and observations from Stanford's day versus Louisville at Rupp Arena. Included are some notes on Lawrence Hill, Kenny Brown, Robin Lopez, rebounding, free throws, the Cardinals, the cheerleaders, the media buffet and more.

*  Both were NCAA Tournament massacres that included bloody starts right out of the gate.  In the Kansas game of 2002, Mike Montgomery refused to call a timeout and waited until the first media break after the 16:00 mark.  That was widely criticized, as it allowed the Jayhawks to steamroll their way to a 15-0 lead from which they could never recover.  In sharp contrast, Trent Johnson had a quick trigger in this game against Louisville, calling a timeout just 81 seconds into the contest.  It mattered little, as the 0-4 hole against the Cardinals continually grew the remainder of the first half.  What was interesting was the fact that of Stanford's 21 turnovers in this game, only one had transpired before Johnson called the first timeout.  I think what was the more pressing concern (no pun intended) in the opening 81 seconds of the game that prompted Johnson to regroup his troops was the pair of offensive rebound putbacks that Louisville achieved with ease for both of its two scores.  Stanford's strengths all year were rebounding and defense, and the early failure in rebounding was a flashing red light.

*  Stanford underperformed glaringly on the boards in the first half of the game, and that tracked significantly with the team's woes.  At the 2:00 mark late in the first half, Stanford was being beaten on the boards by Louisville.  Louisville led by 27 points and enjoyed a 14-11 advantage over one of the nation's best rebounding teams, including an 8-5 advantage on the offensive glass.  Over the final 32 minutes of the game, Stanford outscored Louisville by seven points while dramatically turning around the rebounding margin: 23-15 overall and 12-0 on the offensive glass, both in Stanford's favor.  That's right - the Cardinals did not have an offensive rebound in the final 32 minutes of the game.

*  Stanford scored only 20 in the first half, which was awful but not without precedent.  They had managed only 22 points in the opening stanza versus Arizona, 21 versus Air Force, 20 at Washington State and 12 versus Santa Clara.  Louisville also deserves some credit for the result, which they had similarly achieved other times during their season.  The Cardinals seven different times held opponents to 20 or fewer points in the first half, with the Stanford result the fourth time in their last 12 games (including performances against Pittsburgh and Cincinnati).

*  What made Louisville even more dangerous when they built a big lead at the half?  They came into the Stanford game shooting 48.9% from the field in the second halves of their games, against just 38.5% shooting in the first halves of games during the season.

*  Stanford finished the final 4:54 of the first half with no field goals.  Louisville finished the final 5:00 of the second half with no field goals.

*  Stanford blocked just one shot in the game, coming at the 5:20 mark late in the second half by freshman center Robin Lopez.  That was a season low for Stanford shotblocking, which averaged 6.1 swats per game prior to the Louisville contest.  Stanford did shatter the school record for blocks in a season with 184 this year.  The previous high was 167 in 1999-2000.  Robin Lopez' 73 blocks obliterated the school's freshman record of 43 and ranks second for any Stanford season behind the 85 of Curtis Borchardt in 2001-02.

*  Fill in the blank: "Stanford can least afford an off game by ______."  The answer is... sophomore forward Lawrence Hill.  The Cardinal's leading scorer was consistently productive through the breadth of the season, save a rare few games.  It so happened that those low-scoring outings for Hill coincided with losses.  Against Louisville, the 6'8" sophomore tallied just 10 points on 4-of-8 shooting from the field, 1-of-3 three-pointers and 1-of-5 free throws.  There were only five games all season where Hill scored 10 or fewer points.  All were Stanford losses.  Air Force (nine), Santa Clara (seven), at Washington State (zero), Pac-10 Tournament vs. USC (three) and NCAA Tournament vs. Louisville (10).  Hill combined for 11-of-41 shooting from the field (26.8%) and 3-of-14 from three-point range (21.4%) in those five games.  In his other 26 games of the season, he shot 54.0% from the field and 43.5% on three-pointers.

*  Robin Lopez had early foul trouble against Louisville, picking up his first and second whistles in the third and fourth minutes of the game, respectively.  His overall minutes were limited (12), while seven teammates logged more minutes in the game.  Lopez fouled out with five personal fouls.  That may not have come as a surprise, with both of the Lopez twins having their share of foul difficulties this year.  But Robin Lopez actually had not been disqualified from a contest since the Air Force game on November 15.

*  Whether it was a contributor to the disease or merely another symptom, Stanford picked a poor time to suffer their second worst game of the season at the free throw line.  In the 20-point loss, they left 14 points at the stripe with 13-of-27 shooting (48.1%).  It was a collective Cardinal failure, with seven different players missing free throws on the day.

*  On the other side of the court, Louisville was popping champagne as they watched Derrick Caracter, a 43.2% free throw shooter, hit a perfect 8-of-8 at the charity stripe.

*  Speaking of Caracter, he had a super game with 12 points off the bench in just 11 minutes.  Louisville had a good deal of attention for getting all of its players healthy just in time for this NCAA opener against Stanford, but Caracter's reclamation project was probably the biggest reason for their surge at the end of the season.  The big-bodied freshman arrived on campus last August at 318 pounds, eventually trimming his way to a playing weight of 265 by the NCAA Tournament.  He sat out the first three games of the season due to NCAA rules violations, and then in late December he was sent home by Rick Pitino for a series of team rules violations and missed five games.  Caracter signed a contract with Pitino promising certain behavior and returned for two games to start the New Year.  He quickly fell out of line and was suspended again, this time missing six games.  During his time he was sent home, Caracter's mother told him to shape up and pull his act together at Louisville or get a job at the Dunkin' Donuts down the street.  When he returned to school, his mother sent a Dunkin' Donuts application as a reminder.  Caracter scored in double figures five of six games off the bench after his final reinstatement to the team in mid-February, and he continued rolling against the Cardinal in Rupp Arena.

*  We remember his makes much more than his misses, maybe because he has been such a dramatic surprise to produce contributions off the bench this year.  Indeed, I was struck during the flow of the game with the fact that redshirt sophomore walk-on guard Kenny Brown hit a three-pointer within seconds of entering the game at the five-minute mark late in the first half.  That was Stanford's only successful triple before halftime.  However, Brown did finish the game 1-of-5 from three-point range, and he shot just 30.5% from deep for the season.  That ranked him below the 32.1% that Mitch Johnson shot three-pointers this season, which I am sure is jolting to the perceptions that many Cardinalmaniacs™ hold for those respective players.

*  Also in the category of perceptions versus statistics, there was much teeth grinding over the playing time and leash given to freshman wing Landry Fields, despite a dry spell in the middle of the season.  Fields hit 7-of-13 three-pointers in the last five games of the season and finished with a 30.3% clip from long range - a percentage almost indistinguishable from Brown.

*  Maybe the greater success for Brown came in his ability to take care of the ball.  The 6'1" guard was one of just two Stanford players who logged double-digit minutes against Louisville without a turnover (the other being Robin Lopez).  His three assists were also a team high in the game.  The rest of the Cardinal team recorded a combined seven assists against 21 turnovers.  Appalling...  Brown played major minutes in the final five weeks of the season, excepting the L.A. road trip where he averaged just six minutes in the losses at USC (three) and UCLA (nine).  Of Stanford's last eight games of the season, he played a big role in the other six contests and averaged 21 minutes per game.  In those six games, Brown dished 14 assists against just four turnovers.  Three of those turnovers came in the overtime game against Arizona, but Brown made up for each of them by recording three steals.

*  Games between #6 and #11 seeds have provided more than their share of excitement in recent years, for various reasons.  This Stanford-Louisville game was unusually lopsided.  The 20-point final margin was the largest in a 6 vs. 11 game since 1999, when Kansas handled Evansville, 95-74.

*  For an example of how media relations materials can support a big time basketball program, I needed to look no further than Louisville while I scanned the table full of thick materials from the eight programs in attendance at Rupp Arena.  The Louisville 2006-07 media guide was a splendid presentation of 200 pages inside a hardcover binding.  Their postseason media guide was a treasure trove of information which I devoured with delight, contributing to several of these notes and other pieces of backdrop information that helped me while I watched the game.  The updated states, notes, trends for the season, individuals and the program's history were well presented.  37 articles written on Louisville were selected for inclusion in the postseason media guide.  Stanford's postseason media guide was the thinnest I have ever seen in the past two decades of the program's postseasons - a long cry even behind the 1989 postseason guide that accompanied the Cardinal's first modern NCAA Tournament.  None of Stanford's NCAA records, results or statistics were in this 2007 postseason guide, and only nine articles from the season were included.

*  It was surprising and amazing to hear the number of different fanbases who in a single day provided stifling noise inside Rupp Arena in those four first-round games.  You would think that a majority of the seasons would have to be occupied by a focused rooting interest in an arena to accomplish such noise.  I suppose it is a testament to the ferocity of fandom carried by supporters in the Big Dance, as well as the overall capacity of Rupp Arena (23,500).  The arena's design and acoustics also deserve props.

*  Rupp Arena is connected to a convention center and a shopping mall.  Part of the convention center included a large hall that served as the media buffet - a critical component of a very long day.  The location and spread were commendable.  Particularly notable was the decision to put the cheerleader practice area in the same hall.  Good for the digestion?  I heard no complaints from my peers in the media corps.

*  Speaking of cheerleaders, I don't think it was in the best interests of the Central Connecticut State crew to be in close proximity to a buffet line...

*  The BYU cheerleaders were interesting.  The girls (all blond - same hair and same visage) all looked to be within half an inch of a uniform height - maybe 4'11" or 5'0".  The guys also caught my attention, though, with the deepest hairlines in the recorded history of collegiate male cheerleaders.  One poor guy had nearly a complete chrome dome, with just 'Jeffrey Tambor' vestiges of hair surviving.  Sad.

*  What made the BYU-Xavier game so entertaining, as is the case often in NCAA Tournament action, was the three-point shooting.  When the game reached its top peak midway through the second half, I looked at the stats monitor and noticed that the Cougars were hitting 57.3% and the Musketeers 50.0% from three-point range.  Stanford incidentally shot 3-of-12 behind the arc against Louisville (7-of-17).

*  My seat on press row for the late games put me immediately behind the CBS commentators crew of Gus Johnson and Dan Bonner.  Xavier missed a shot at the basket at one point during the first half, at which time I saw Johnson throw his arms up high over his head in demonstrative and emotional reaction.  I couldn't figure out what was so remarkable about the play - was there an uncalled foul I missed?  A CBS assistant then mouthed these words: "VCU just hit a shot to go up on Duke with 1.8 seconds in the game."  Then I noticed that there was a second CBS monitor to accompany the one showing our game at Rupp Arena, and sure enough the second monitor had the feed of the Duke-Virginia Commonwealth game.  The Rams of course won the game, 79-77, in the only seeded upset of the day (interestingly enough, a #11 over a #6).  Gus Johnson, though calling the BYU-Xavier game at that moment, was just another college hoops fan in the throes of March Madness.  I have no clue if anybody watching the broadcast could detect a change in Johnson's voice at the moment VCU's Eric Maynor hit that shot.  His body language sure was dramatic.

*  I would be remiss if I did not mention the highlight of the trip: my Friday lunch at a Skyline Chili diner in Richwood (Ky.).  The bad news about flying in and out of the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky airport was the 80-plus miles I had to drive to and from Lexington, including a pre-dawn roaring rainstorm upon my arrival Thursday morning after my red-eye flight from San Francisco.  The good news is that any excursion through the Cincinnati area affords a chance to eat their unique style of chili.  If you have never had it, I won't be able to aptly describe it.  The chili with Greek roots features a secretive spice blend that includes cinnamon and is rumored to include chocolate, with a very fine ground beef uniformly throughout.  I debated between a "three-way" and a "four-way" for my lunch, ultimately sticking with the simple three-way.  (The former is a bed of spaghetti, layer of chili and topping of finely shredded cheddar cheese; the latter adds diced onions.  A "five-way" adds red beans.)  I also woofed down a Cheese Coney, which is a small hot dog in a bun with chili, mustard, diced onions and a heaping of cheese.  Some splashes of hot sauce made their way onto both dishes, and I threw some oyster crackers into my three-way.  It had been 10 years almost to the week since I had eaten at a Skyline Chili diner.  The last time was when I was en route with my family for the 1997 Final Four in Indianapolis.  If you haven't had Skyline or a variation of Cincinnati chili (there are several nearly identical cousins, including competitor Gold Star Chili), you haven't tasted one of the nation's great local cuisines.

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