Hoops Flashback: @ UCLA on 1-16-91
QB Todd Marinovich remained enrolled at USC, owning snakeskin cowboy boots brought home from the Sun Bowl trip.
Darryl Strawberry readied for spring training, drying joyful tears during his official Dodger blue intro. Al Davis readied his "Team of the Decades" for the upcoming AFC title game against Buffalo.
Far away, Peter Arnett and Bernard Shaw huddled in their Baghdad hotel room, filing live reports of the Gulf War amid bombs and anti-aircraft fire.
Stanford basketball began its annual trip to Los Angeles on this date in 1991. The 89-82 victory over No. 7 UCLA, with Adam Keefe pouring in 30 points for the program's second all-time at Pauley Pavilion, would have normally been a huge deal. More important world events rendered the Cardinal's statement – in addition to the local crazies – less noteworthy than otherwise.
The U.S.-led military coalition unleashed "Operation Desert Storm" on Iraq 19 years ago. For the first time, a Stanford game was on the air opposite a war. Television viewers, if they wanted, could turn away from Wolf Blizter and "Scud Stud" Arthur Kent in favor of Barry Tompkins on ESPN.
It didn't take infrared night vision to see distractions. Cardinal players watched the news in silence that afternoon. "I don't know how preoccupied the kids will be," Mike Montgomery admitted. Officials from each school convened, Stanford deferring to UCLA on the decision to play on. Extra security patrolled the Pauley Pavilion. There were nearly 4,000 empty seats.
With a star forwards Tracy Murray and Don McLean, UCLA won 13 of its first 16. Emotional wins over USC and Louisville coincided with a tight loss at Arizona. Coach Jim Harrick already sensed a letdown. Stanford could unleash (or unravel) at any minute.
The embarrassment of losing to George Washington – few among these parts had ever heard of the school, let alone head coach Mike Jarvis and the Colonials – in Stanford's own preseason tournament gave way to a 7-3 start. The Pac-10 slate began with close losses at the Oregon schools The rebound came with 31 and 32-point home wins against Washington and Washington State.
The Pac-10 had long since turned egalitarian since the Bruin glory days. Arizona was the top dog in the conference, days earlier outlasting Harrick's squad to extend a home court winning streak (that UCLA finally ended the following season at 71) dating back to 1987. Sixteen years – and six coaches – separated the Bruins from John Wooden's last game.
Stanford rode a four-game winning streak over UCLA into the contest. From the opening tip, It appeared that Harrick's predictions of complacency ("I don't know how much emotion we have left") were spot on.
The Bruins led 24-22 approaching the six-minute mark of the first half when Stanford sophomore Kenny Hicks nailed a long jumper. A 17-0 run was at hand.
The Card's next trip saw senior forward Andrew Vlahov drive the lane and score while being fouled. The three-point play preceded an empty Bruin possession, followed by Keefe making two free throws after being fouled.
Montgomery's Stanford success coincided with the NCAA's introduction of the three-point shot in 1986-87. The 1990-91 Cardinal loved shooting from long range, opponents' double-teams of Keefe freeing up senior guards John Patrick and Kenny Amman. Patrick and Hicks each drilled threes during the run. Keefe again made two free throws. With 3:53 to play, UCLA was looking up at a 39-24 deficit.
Murray answered with a pair of his own three-pointers. Teammate Mitchell Butler grabbed a steal and bolted for a layup to cut the Stanford deficit to 42-36, but Vlahov banked home a short jumper to answer. Stanford had made 60 percent (15-of-25) of its field goals in the first half to hold a 44-36 advantage. Man-to-man defense forced UCLA into 13-of-35 shooting (37 percent).
The teams traded blows as the second half progressed. UCLA pulled within 55-53 with 14:38 left on consecutive hoops from MacLean. The Cardinal led 69-62 with 8:22 remaining, then 75-65 with six minutes remaining. Three minutes later, it was 75-71.
Stanford may have earned an NCAA bid instead of settling for an NIT championship, had Andrew Vlahov not missed over a month with an injured ankle. He had 12 points on this night, holding MacLean (13 points) to nearly 11 below his usual scoring output. The Aussie strongman beat the UCLA press with a long pass to Keefe, whose resulting hoop put the Cardinal (10-5, 3-2) ahead 80-71 with two minutes to play.
UCLA (13-4, 2-2) would be Elite Eight-bound within a year, but the Bruins fell behind both Stanford and first-place Oregon State (3-0) and Arizona (3-1) on this strange night. College players were soon wearing American flags stitched on their jerseys.
"I'm sure there'll be kids for whom the game will be less urgent," Montgomery said "What can I do? I can't tell them this game is more important than a war."
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