This Date in Cardinal Hoops: 1-09-97
From the commercial breaks of televised Pac-10 hoops games of the early '90s – raise your hand if you remember Barry Tompkins and Dan Belluomini holding Raycom microphones – came very strange scenes: Clouds floating above prairies. Creek waters flowing past birch trees. A narrative voice reading philosophy in hushed, funereal tones.
Do you remember those first TV ads for Infiniti? Never made sense. They never showed an actual car. Then there was this date in 1997, when the action on the court between No. 21 Stanford and two-time defending conference champion UCLA made a lot of sense, an inspired sense of disbelief.
Stanford 109, UCLA 61. Worst Bruin loss....ever.
"It was a basketball clinic by Stanford tonight," said Steve Lavin, UCLA's interim coach at the time. "They played at what I'd call a magic level."
This was the same UCLA (7-4, 2-1) team that won a third straight Pac-10 title that year. Coming into the night, all five starters averaged in double figures. They were tops in the Pac-10 in field goal percentage (54.9%).
One more time: Stanford 109, UCLA 61
"If you had told me before the game that we were going to win like this,'' Brevin Knight said, "I'd have called you a liar.''
The Cardinal (9-2, 2-1) led by 16 less than five minutes in. They held a 45-26 rebounding edge throughout, all while going exclusively to the bench over the final 15 minutes. A 57-26 halftime lead got only larger, as the subs – "everyone but Nobel Laureates," wrote the Long Beach Press-Telegram – kept the Cardinal carnage going.
"More than anything," said 7'1" Stanford center Tim Young, "this was a lucky night."
Knight matched against Kris Johnson at the point. UCLA guard Toby Bailey was a hero of the team's national title game win of a year earlier, but Kris Weems of the Cardinal was one of the country's top three-point shooters that season (Stanford would drain a school-record 15 for the game).
The Cards countered the Bruins' talented frontcourt – veterans Jelani McCoy, J.R. Henderson and Charles O'Bannon – with Young, sophomore Pete Sauer and yoked-up senior Rich Jackson. Stanford's one-point win the previous February had broken a 10-game losing skid to the Bruins.
Knight found his shooting stroke immediately, drilling a pair of threes in the opening minutes. UCLA couldn't find a hoop, its only points coming on a Henderson free throw. By the time Knight struck for his third three-ball, the Cardinal led 17-1 at the 15:08 mark. Maples shook, and Lavin called for a timeout.
It was only the start of things to come.
Stanford made 10 three-pointers in the first half, five coming from Knight, who was not known as a major threat from downtown. In the first 15 minutes, the sizzling-hot Cardinal converted on nine of 13 shots from outside the arc.
Knight had 20 points and five assists in the first 20 minutes. He would finish with 25 points after playing just four minutes of the second half, joining his starting mates on the bench as the home team completed what was at the time the second largest margin of victory ever in a Pac-10 game.
UCLA, which shot 36.7 percent from the field, had no answer, despite holding Weems without a three-point basket in six attempts. Jackson made all three of his three-pointers. Art Lee (13 points), Ryan Mendez (nine points, six assists, five boards in 18 minutes) gave Cardinal backers glimpses of the future.
Weeks earlier, Lavin installed a zone defense into the Bruin system. UCLA switched from a man-to-man 10 minutes in, only to collapse under the weight of the nation's top three-point shooting team.
``They were shooting at a rim that was as big as my arms,'' O'Bannon said. ``Everything they threw up went in. There was nothing at all we could do about it. Nothing at all. It was unbelievable. I'm not embarrassed. They played a perfect game tonight.''
The margin stood at 41 points with 14 minutes to play. All 16 players on the Stanford roster saw the floor. Winery-heir Karl Wente played three minutes, where he joined fellow reservists Mark Thompson and Kamba Tshionyi.
Lavin will be remembered for a legacy of failure in Westwood, though his first edition in 1996-97 wound up being his best. The alum of Marin Couny's Drake High and son of University of San Francisco coach Cap Lavin, he took the Bruins all the way to the regional finals.
The outcome marked a pronounced shift in a series long dominated by the Bruins. The Cardinal won 14 of 18 meetings between 1997 and 2005, going 10-4 against Lavin in the process.
"I thought we had a pretty good chance to win,'' said Knight, who also tallied six assists and four rebounds ``But if you had told me we would win by 40-48 points, I would have said, `Never.' ''
In 1997, Brevin Knight, whose unusual name came from the combination of his father Melvin and mother Brenda, became Stanford's first first-team All-American (Sporting News) in 55 years and the first All-American under 6'0" from any school in 27 years. And other than Stanford, Manhattan was the only other school to recruit him.
Are you fully subscribed to The Bootleg? If not, then you are missing out on all the top Cardinal coverage we provide daily on our award-winning website. Sign up today for the biggest and best in Stanford sports coverage with TheBootleg.com (sign-up)!