This Date in Cardinal Hoops: 2-07-2002
Undersized. Unknown. Underappreciated. Underwhelming, especially compared to the string of all-conference stars he succeeded at his point position.
But let us never forget that on this very date seven years ago, during a critical win over a talented Oregon team , the biggest thrill of Tony Giovacchini's Stanford basketball career memorably took place.
Stunning a grateful Maples Pavilion crowd, the seldom-called-upon senior point guard improbably buried a last-second three-pointer to send the Cardinal's second meeting of 2002 against the Oregon Ducks into overtime. He then made three of his four foul shots in the extra session's final 17 seconds, helping 20th-rated Stanford hold off the 13th-ranked Ducks by a 90-87 score.
''When Tony hit that shot, everyone got together and said, 'We're going to get this one,' '' said 7'0" center Curtis Borchardt, who scored 24 points and grabbed 15 rebounds.
Rarely has Maples Pavilion seen such an exciting game with the usually less-than-mighty Ducks. A talented Oregon team (17-6, 9-2) would win the Pac-10 regular season crown that year; Stanford (14-6, 7-4) came in having won our shared the previous three such titles.
There were 13 ties and 19 lead changes. A lot of soon-to-be millionaires, as in five eventual NBA first-round draft picks, performed in vintage form. Included in that group were Oregon's Freddie Jones (36 points on 12 of 19 shooting) and Casey Jacobsen (41 points). Aside from Joe Kirchofer's nine points, no other Cardinal player had as many as six points.
But in the closing seconds, the game rested in the hands of a oft-maligned starting point guard who had been held scoreless all night.
After Jones' foul shots put Oregon up 78-75 with 14 ticks remaining, Stanford designed a play for its top scorer, who got the ball beyond the three-point arc. Jacobsen was then swarmed by defenders before passing over to Giovacchini.
The senior lefty dribbled to his right before going airborne. The shot, more of a line drive, went down with four seconds left.
''I was open, I knew I had to shoot, I shot, it went in,'' said the Cardinal's lone scholarship senior. ''I guess it was that simple.''
Previous Stanford point guards had usually made things look easy. Brevin Knight begat Arthur Lee, who gave way to Michael McDonald. Knight is Stanford's best ever at the position. Lee brought a Final Four berth. McDonald presided over two No. 1 rankings. Giovacchini began the year as a starter for a team ranked No. 13 in the preseason, but he'd lost playing time as the Cardinal tried to keep pace in a very tough Pac-10.
President Bush had made his famous "Axis of Evil" speech the previous week. Jones, forward Luke Jackson and point guard Luke Ridnour represented a very formidable threesome in the their own right, all averaging 14 points or more per-game. Against Stanford, the high-flying Jones stuffed home a dunk on which he appeared to be parallel to the rim.
The free-wheeling Ducks, unbeaten at home all year coming in, went all the way to the Elite Eight that March. They eventually fell to the same Drew Gooden-led Kansas team that dropped Stanford in the second round. But until Tony G. came through, an eighth straight NCAA tournament berth seemed like a long way's off for the young Cardinal.
''Oh, man, this could have been a devastating night,'' said Jacobsen. ''But instead it's one of the most enjoyable and inspiring victories I've had. . . . We worked so hard, that to not have it would have taken our hearts out.''
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