This Date in Cardinal Hoops: 2-26-89
Gary Payton already owned a reputation for both his skills and attitude when Stanford met his Oregon State Beavers on this date 20 years ago.
It was "The Glove" against "The Shove," as in the Cardinal's demonstrated ability to push opponents around during a breakthrough 1988-89 season. Given that both teams lost in the NCAA tournament's first round, perhaps they expended too much energy during a 60-58 donnybrook won by the Stanford Cardinal.
The No. 16 Cardinal (23-5, 14-3) trapped Payton and the Beavers (19-6, 11-5) bullying the junior superstar into a 6-of-20 shooting effort from the floor. In a very liberally officiated game, freedom of expression was in high volume on this late Saturday afternoon. The loquacious point guard exchanged heated words with decidedly less loquacious opposing power forward Eric Reveno, with officials breaking up the exchange. Protesting a call from the sidelines, Mike Montgomery showed his displeasure...on hands and knees.
The outcome, with a Pac-10 runner-up spot to Arizona at stake, came down to a rookie at the foul line. Freshman forward Adam Keefe made one of two free throws with 48 seconds left to break a 58-58 tie. He made another with a second remaining after both Payton and teammate Eric Knox missed jumpers in the final five seconds.
"This was an intense ballgame, to say the least," Montgomery said at the time. "When you put together the things we like to do with the things they like to do, you're going to get that kind of game."
A very physical game between two sides known for physical play took place in front of a sellout crowd of 10,400 at Gill Coliseum in Corvallis. An upstart Stanford team visited the more-established Beavers, who won four Pac-10 crowns in the '80s and finished second three other times. The home side was extra pumped for head coach Ralph Miller, who would retire at year's end after 38 seasons in college basketball.
Among Miller's 674 career wins was a 63-61 stunner that had spoiled senior day at Maples Pavilion in 1988. All five OSU starters had played the entire 40 minutes. Payton's driving lay-in with 18 seconds to play had provided the final score. Hello, NIT for the 20-win Cardinal.
A year later, Stanford's physical toughness, thanks to seven players weighing 225 pounds or more, helped break a 47-year NCAA tournament appearance drought. Among a squad of six seniors, Reveno (a stout 6 feet, 8 inches) joined classmate Howard Wright on the interior. The 6-9, 235-pound Wright had turned down Larry Brown and Kansas for The Farm, where he once broke Keefe's nose in practice. He is now enshrined in Stanford's Athletic Hall of Fame [Ed.: No, not for being brave enough to break Reveno's nose!]. Senior yeoman Bryan McSweeney played alongside freshman phenom Keefe, who had shunned major offers from both Duke and North Carolina.
Some remained unimpressed, like the time when five Stanford players fouled out in a very heated loss at Indiana. "I'm really disappointed, a team like that coming from a school like that," Bobby Knight said. Others were more admiring and gracious. "They knock your socks off," was how Jim Harrick put it after his UCLA Bruins lost for the second time in three games to the Cardinal. "It's hard to imagine a stronger, more physical team in the country."
Stanford went unbeaten in the Pac-10 at Maples and earned a No. 3 seed in the NCAA's. For the second straight year, the Cardinal handed Arizona its only Pac-10 loss. "They go to the backboard," wrote Mark Purdy in the San Jose Mercury News, "the same way Godzilla went to Tokyo for lunch."
Todd Lichti was the bonafide star, the senior shooting guard earning third-team All-American honors alongside Hank Gathers and Alonzo Mourning. But in Corvallis, the frontcourt was the difference over the thinner Beavers. Wright went for 21 points and 10 boards. Reveno added 15. Lichti made just six of his 18 field goal attempts for 14 points, sub-par for the conference's second all-time leading scorer behind Lew Alcindor (aka Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).
A timeout followed Keefe's go-ahead shot, and Oregon State wound down the clock.
Knox, who scored 13 points, was forced into an off-balance 15-footer with five seconds left. Payton grabbed the rebound along the baseline, but he was short on his jumper. Keefe corralled the rebound before being fouled. Stanford forced Oregon State to shoot just 35 percent (21 of 59) from the field.
The Beavers led 30-23 early on the strength of its transition game. Then, mindful of his smaller side's need to conserve energy, Miller relented to a halfcourt set. Stanford seized the chance, going on an 11-0 run to close the first half with a 34-30 edge.
Tempers flared early in the second half. Both teams walked to their respective benches during a timeout. After Payton barked toward Cardinal point man Terry Taylor, there came a sequel to an incident in which the former Skyline High of Oakland star had dropkicked a ball across Pauley Pavilion when the Beavers visited UCLA.
"Payton had been talking to our players from the first play of the game, telling us we couldn't play, to stop whining to refs and on and on," Reveno said. "I just snapped. I grabbed him by the jersey and told him to shut up."
Nothing more than words were exchanged. Postgame, Payton exited without speaking to reporters. Neither side made much noise in March that year either. In a story in The Bootleg Magazine from 2003, the former Cardinal players said fatigue was in fact a big reason for the early exit.
A day after a 165-pound point guard named Marc Brown led Siena with 31 points in an 80-78 decision over Stanford, lightly-regarded Evansville upset Oregon State to end Miller's coaching career. The Beavers and the Cardinal shared postseason misfortune and misery, that after battling each other in epic fashion.
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