This Date in Cardinal Hoops: 12-11-93
Going into the 1993-94 college basketball season, the conversation involving the best college point guards on the West Coast began and ended with California's Jason Kidd and Santa Clara's Steve Nash. That all changed on this date 15 years ago, when a little-known freshman from New Jersey produced the first of many huge efforts in a Cardinal uniform.
An unbeaten Stanford team stood as the decided underdog when the Cardinal tipped off against Santa Clara on this date in 1993.
In a surprising upset, the visitors from Palo Alto would leave Toso Pavilion with a satisfying overtime victory, thanks to a freshman point guard who shed his unknown status.
Brevin Knight, who scored eight points in the final five minutes of regulation and four in the extra session, enjoyed his coming out party, helping the Cardinal to an 82-70 victory against the favored Broncos. Stanford (4-0) prevailed thanks to 23 points from Knight and key baskets from forwards Andy Poppink and Brent Williams, overcoming the odds against Steve Nash and a solid Santa Clara squad.
"I know I'm a freshman, but I try to play like a senior," Knight would say later in the season.
The Broncos (3-2) were essentially the same group that had shocked No. 2-seeded Arizona nine months earlier in the 1993 NCAA tournament's first round. Nash was a budding star and known entity. It was also the sophomore's three-pointer, an off-balance 23-foot offering with 11 seconds to play and with Knight in his face, that sent the game into overtime.
With sharpshooters Pete Eisenrich, a 6'9" transfer from Boise State and John Woolery in addition to Nash, the Broncos provided a formidable foe. Cal head coach Todd Bozeman and his hoop hoodlums from Berkeley had learned as much. The 13th-ranked Bears had hosted Santa Clara a week earlier at the Oakland Coliseum. The upstarts in red drained a school-record 13 three-pointers, sparking a 80-67 upset win.
In 1992-93, Stanford had won only one more game against Pac-10 opponents than had Santa Clara. The undermanned Cardinal had flatlined during Mike Montgomery's seventh season on The Farm, going only 7-23 while losing 16 of 18 in conference play.
No one could have predicted the significance of Knight's arrival. It came at a time when Stanford basketball lagged behind its local peers. After sweeping the Cardinal in the regular season, Kidd and the Bears had enjoyed their own 1993 NCAA tournament stunner: a second-round victory over perennial power Duke that ended the Blue Devils' three-peat national title hopes.
Stanford's all-time best point guard came in as a lightly-regarded recruit from New Jersey. Hometown Seton Hall ignored him, although Brevin's father Melvin was a former assistant coach there. His starting presence was felt immediately as Stanford raced to easy home wins over Cal State Northridge and San Jose State. The trip to Toso's teflon bubble came on the heels of a 69-64 win in Maples Pavilion against UC Riverside, a Division II team at the time.
Santa Clara grabbed the lead early and held it for the first 28 minutes. That's when Poppink drained his second three-pointer of the season, and the Cardinal led 51-50 with nine minutes to play. A Michigan native and now a frequent attendee for Stanford hoops at Maples, Poppink had missed the entire previous season with a back injury.
The lead changed hands four times before the OT. Knight tied things at 60-60 with a bank shot in the lane. It would be the first of six straight points for Stanford, which led 66-60 on Poppink's jumper with 1:32 remaining. The previous possession, Knight drove and scored on Woolery after Nash's three-pointer rimmed out.
But Nash, the future NBA MVP, wasn't done. Fouled by Stanford sophomore Dion Cross while shooting from long range with 1:05 remaining, he pulled the Broncos to within 66-65 with three successive free throws. His last-second heroics came after Brent Williams' free throws made it 68-65 with 43 seconds to play.
Not until the final shot of OT would Stanford allow another point. Things were all but decided halfway through the period. Knight picked Woolery's pocket, making the steal and feeding Poppink for a basket. The Cards led 75-68.
Stanford would run its record to 6-0 before suffering its first loss. Nine days later at home against McNeese State, Knight made 10 steals to set a new Pac-10 record. All this was taking place in front of a newly-formed student fan organization, dubbed the "Sixth Man Club," whose members occupied a chunk of Maples' lower tier while wearing matching red t-shirts. The NIT berth to end the season became the first of 15-straight postseason appearances. Clearly, Stanford basketball was emerging from its cocoon.
''We don't get a lot of respect in the Bay Area," Poppink said after Knight's record performance. "Maybe people will begin to notice us a little now."
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