This Date in Cardinal Hoops:
Once upon a time there was a physical Cardinal power forward known to teammates "Hacks," who once produced a sublime moment of inspired, full-contact coordination.
It was January 24, 1998. Stanford shooting guard Kris Weems didn't rely solely on his deft shooting touch when he received Pete Sauer's inbounds pass with his Stanford squad trailing the host Washington Huskies 72-71 on this date 12 years ago. About 75 feet separated the Cardinal's reliable shooting guard from the target hoop. Only 5.1 seconds showed on the clock. Not much time to set up. The Huskies had two fouls to give. The one player in position to screen off the nearest defenders had earned his nickname for his exceptional ability to commit a foul.
Enter 6-9, 255-pound Pete Van Elswyk, a senior backup forward from Hamilton, Ontario (Canada), who had transferred to Stanford in 1995 after one season with the South Carolina Gamecocks. Van Elswyk's timely provision of badly-needed space sprung Weems' buzzer-beating hoop and kept No. 5 Stanford's 18-game unbeaten start – the longest winning streak in the nation at the time – alive.
Weems, guarded by Washington's Deon Luton, took the pass near his own three-point line. The junior from Oregon dribbled upcourt along the near sideline before Van Elswyk folded his arms and cordoned off Luton. Thalo Green seized his defensive chance, only to have Van Elswyk coral both him and Luton while Weems streaked towards daylight.
"I grabbed them both, yeah," said Van Elswyk, who replays show briefly locked arms with the pair and was only in the starting lineup because of and injury to Mark Madsen.
The good fortune then continued for Stanford, taking the form of two Husky defensive brainlocks. Jan Wooten approached
Weems from behind at midcourt with under three seconds left. He weakly jabbed at the ball instead of fouling ("I didn't think he was going to get the shot off," was his offered excuse).
Green then inexplicably took position in the key for a rebound instead of contesting the shot, which came from one of the Pac-10's finest three-point shooters. Weems went airborne near the top of the key. The ball was still in its upward flight as the buzzer went off. The packed crowd continued to roar and scream, eager for a second home win over Stanford in as many years.
And then, a swish, followed by dead silence. Weems clenched his fists and sprinted to the opposite end of the court. The Cardinal's ensuing victory dogpile took place at the winning sequence's starting gate, the very spot where the shooting hero grabbed the inbounds pass.
"That's the best possible scenario for us. It was one of those deals where everything went right," said Cardinal head coach Mike Montgomery, before adding a hint of caution. ''Well, I hope we're not in another five-seconds-to-go, full-court, a foul-to-give situation."
Stanford seemed like a logical upset candidate leading up the game, which came on the eve of John Elway and the Broncos' Super Bowl XXXII upset of Brett Favre's Packers . Stanford had beaten UCLA at Maples Pavilion a week earlier in front of CBS's top team of Jim Nantz and Billy Packer. But the best start in school history was still not the biggest Bay Area basketball news of the winter. No, that was Latrell Sprewell's infamous December choking of P.J. Carliesemo ("I'm not O.J. I'm not a double-murderer," he told the San Francisco Chronicle that week).
Madsen sat idle, while 7-1 junior center Tim Young had sprained both his foot and ankle in the Thursday night victory at Washington State. Washington, whose season would end ironically on UConn star Richard Hamilton's fall-away buzzer-beater in the NCAA tournament's Round of 16, was a tough foe. The Huskies featured seven-footers Todd MacCullough and Patrick Femerling and had been easy winners in the Cardinal's 1997 visit to Seattle.
The game may well have been the most thrilling of the Pac-10 season, with seven lead-changes coming in the final five minutes alone. A clutch runner from point guard Art Lee (10 assists) had put Stanford (18-0, 7-0 Pac-10) ahead in the closing seconds. Washington (12-4, 5-2) responded with matching heroics from its own point guard. Donald Watts scored the final of his 21 points with 5.1 seconds to go, knifing past Weems with a drop-step before sailing a six-footer off the glass over Lee to put the Huskies briefly back in front.
Young's toughness complemented the perimeter players' clutch efforts. The big fella seemed like a lock to miss the game before Friday came around, when he received extended treatment at the Seattle Supersonics' facility. Young held the plodding, but usually highly effective MacCullough to just five points and three boards. Coming in, UW's large loan from Manitoba had been averaging 19 points and almost 10 rebounds per game. Young, a proud product of Harbor High School in Santa Cruz (Calif.) who would later marry Cardinal women's hoop star Paula McNamee, dominated the match-up with 14 points and 12 rebounds.
Neither team held a bigger lead that Stanford's 28-17 first-half edge. The Huskies clawed their way back to trail just 37-34 at halftime. There were many highlights in this contest, but precious few whistles. Liberal officiating, as Van Elswyk noted, benefited both teams, especially the one that had the ball last.
"This was a veteran (officiating) crew that wasn't calling much. I thought it was poetic justice that Kris got the shot, because he was getting mugged all game," opined Stanford's rough n' tumble representative of the Great White North. "At least they were consistent."
Bonus: YouTube Footage Of The Shot!
Editor's Note: Van Elswyk, who played on the Canadian national team, would continue his basketball career professionally in Italy and the United Kingdom before retiring a few years back.
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