This Date in Cardinal Hoops: Arizona @
Stanford, January 5, 1989
The All-American candidates graced preseason magazine covers and each carried his respective team's hopes for net-cutting glory, elevating an entire conference's hopes of national respect.
Two sensational seniors – Sean Elliott of Arizona and Todd Lichti of Stanford – were indeed the most high-profile players in the Pac-10 as the 1988-89 season got underway. The pair combined for a performance unlike any other witnessed at Maples Pavilion. Hard to believe it was 21 years ago, when the unranked, but rising Cardinal scored a spectacular 83-78 upset victory over the No. 8 Wildcats at Maples Pavilion.
Each lived up to his much-hyped status as a superstar, with each player racking up 35 points. The Cat-quick Elliott led a Zona team that had lost three starters from its Final Four squad of just a season earlier. The lanky swingman produced 21 points in a first half in which the Wildcats forged a 21-4 lead, forcing the Cardinal to commit turnovers on seven of their first 10 possessions.
Lichti provided the emphatic answer in the second half. He tallied 27 points over the final 20 minutes as Stanford (10-3) once again had Arizona resembling abused kittens in Palo Alto. It was Stanford's fifth-straight home victory against the Wildcats. While promising "different circumstances" in the McKale Center rematch, Lute Olson praised the Cardinal's high-flying guard in defeat.
"On the drive, Lichti is as tough to handle as anyone I've ever seen. He uses either hand and is strong as an ox inside. He will be an outstanding pro player."
Stanford slowly chipped away but still trailed 44-34 at the break. By the 12 minute, 45-second mark of the second half, the Cards took their first lead at 52-51. Lichti then took control with his ambidextrous grasp, scoring 11 consecutive points for the good guys.
Following a fast-break lay-up – resulting in a three-point play – and a successful left-handed reverse lay-up, Stanford was up 71-62 with 5:13 to play.
"I knew I had to do more in the second half, penetrating in particular," said Lichti, who made all 15 of his free throws. "The whole team came out in the second half, ticked off about the way we played those first five minutes."
The Cardinal had already enjoyed an eventful first month-plus of the season. A quality win at Vanderbilt took some sting out of previous road losses at Indiana and North Carolina. The Pac-10 slate got underway in December's final week, with Stanford settling for an L.A. split. Aided by a mouthy freshman named Don McLean, UCLA dropped the visitors' record to 0-24 all-time at Pauley Pavilion. Stanford then beat USC before downing St. Mary's by a point, the first loss of the season for Lynn Nance's talented Gaels.
A 20-win campaign 1987-1988 had still not been enough to earn Stanford, fourth-place finishers in the Pac-10, an NCAA tournament bid. Seniors Steve Kerr, Craig McMillan and Tom (now "Mr. T.") Tolbert helped make Arizona a hoops powerhouse that season. As an edition of our long-running series noted a year ago http://stanford.scout.com/2/836328.html, 1988 saw the Cards score a landmark upset of the top-ranked Wildcats.
The college hoops universe in January of 1989 revolved around the traditional national powers. Duke, Georgetown, Syracuse and Illinois were unbeaten and highly ranked as the New Year turned. On the same day ESPN doubled Major League baseball's television revenues with a four-year, $400 million contract, what was still called the "Total Sports Network" broadcasted live from Maples. A handful of NBA scouts were also among the sellout throng of 7,500.
Elliott came in averaging 21 points, nine rebounds and five assists per-game. The future San Antonio Spur made five three-pointers on the night. Teammate Sean Rooks had 18 points in the paint. Other than Lichti, no other Stanford player scored more than Howard Wright's 11 points.
The outcome came down to free throws. Arizona went just 26-of-38 from the foul line. Harvey Mason had two foul shot attempts with four seconds remaining and his Wildcats trailing 80-78. He clanged the first before missing the rim entirely on the second, giving possession back to the Cardinal. Stanford survived and its students gleefully stormed the court, even after Andrew Vlahov and Terry Taylor missed the front end of one-and-ones down the stretch.
No mention of the 1989 season is complete without the #3-seeded Cardinal's opening-round NCAA loss to #14-seed Siena, so the top moments are confined to the regular season. No matter. Stanford stomped Oregon State, UCLA and Cal at home, compiling an outstanding 13-5 Pac-10 record to finish runner-up to the Pac-10 champion Wildcats. It was a huge milestone for the Cardinal, which earned its first spot in the NCAA tournament in 47 years!
The 1989 Arizona game remains impressive, as do the efforts of two players in particular. It is well worth watching again, 21 years later.
"The first half was pretty much 'the Sean Elliott show', and the second was 'the Todd Lichti show'," said then-Stanford head man Mike Montgomery, now coaching somewhere else and looking blase in blue.
Hmmm....Lute must have been a bit peeved after the game. His Wildcats would win the next 15 consecutive clashes with the Cardinal.
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