This Date in Cardinal Hoops:
Like the long droughts that stood on the verge of continuing, the wait dragged on.
A one-point Stanford lead at Washington State hung in the balance on this date 22 years ago. The Cardinal hunkered down on defense with two fouls to give and 26 seconds remaining. The visitors fouled, and then fouled again. Wazzu called timeout to set up the final shot before signaling for another. The Friel Court crowd buzzed with anticipation, mindful of the Cougars' overtime victory at Maples Pavilion the previous month.
But Stanford emerged victorious, as Todd Lichti's rebound of John Hodges' missed 15-footer just before the horn broke a dreaded curse. The Cardinal's 51-50 win marked the program's first victory in the entire state of Washington since 1978 and was the first in Pullman in 13 years.
Power forward/post player Howard Wright became the hero. The 6-8 junior – son of San Diego Chargers All-Pro tackle Ernie Wright – drove the lane with the Cardinal trailing 50-49, scooping home a layup with 30 seconds left for the seventh lead-change of the second half.
Wright was fouled, but missed the free throw. Washington State controlled the rebound, threatening to fully erase Stanford's 49-44 lead with just under three minutes remaining and prolong Stanford's Pacific Northwest misery.
The Cougars went ahead 50-49 with 44 seconds left. Wright had position on Todd Anderson for the rebound of a Washington State foul shot, only to have the beanpole of a seven-footer tip in the miss.
"I thought the gods of basketball were frowning down on us," Wright told the San Jose Mercury News at the time. "I think we both hit it, and it somehow wound up in the basket."
But Stanford (16-7, 8-4) instead left the Palouse sitting firmly in the Pac-10's second-place spot behind Arizona. The upset of the top-ranked Wildcats a week earlier now gave way to two successive wins, more signs of fertile progress during the salad days of Mike Montgomery's coaching regime.
"Monty" had his team believing that Stanford Basketball's established losing ways were becoming a thing of the past. Point guard Terry Taylor stated that week that a split against the Washington schools would be "a disappointment."
As the Pac-10 struggled in its quest for national respect, the Cardinal – 46 years removed from its most recent postseason tournament – battled for its own identity and self-worth.
Bay Area college football teams are more (in)famous for their Northwest futility. The lone win for the Cardinal's woebegone 2006 football squad came at Husky Stadium, breaking an unimaginable 31-year hex. Jeff Tedford's inaugural Cal team four years earlier won in Seattle– the Golden Bears' first win anywhere in Washington since 1979.
Montgomery in 1986-87 inherited a Cardinal team that was used to losing against the Washington schools, and everyone else in the Pac-10. The Cardinal began the trip three wins short of clinching their first plus-.500 conference record since 1966. The streak totaled 19 straight road losses to the Cougs and Huskies, 12 straight coming on Friel Court.
Stanford began making annual trips north when the conference expanded from six to eight teams in 1965. The Cardinal had totaled an embarrassing 6-40 record at Washington and Washington State during that span. Not since Mad Men 's Don Draper hired Peggy Olson, back in the winter of 1960, had Stanford swept.
The nightmarish trips north included 1984, when the Huskies, en route to the first of their two straight Pac-10 titles, won 68-63 after Washington State squeaked out a four-point victory. The others usually weren't so close..." The others usually weren't so close...like in 1980 when the NCAA-bound Cougars blitzed Stanford to the tune of 102 -74. George Raveling's crew was one of four Pac-10 teams to reach the NCAA's that season. Stanford began the ‘80s in familiar territory: ninth place.
"I associate feeling cold and feeling frustrated with going to Washington State," Lichti commented the week of the 1988 trip.
Like Johnny Dawkins today, a game and determined Montgomery hoped to resurrect Stanford in a decidedly weak Pac-10. It was a Gallagher league compared to the Sam Kinison presence of its major conference counterparts.
Before Arizona began its run to the 1988 Final Four, the Pac-10 had lost 11 of its previous 13 NCAA tournament games. Some experts tabbed the Pac-10, whose only other NCAA entrant that season was Oregon State, the third- or even fourth-best conference west of the Rockies. Case in point: From what still was called the West Coast Athletic Conference, Santa Clara beat Stanford while Bo Kimble and Hank Gathers – USC transfers both – paced high-flying Loyola Marymount. The fourth-place Cardinal (11-7 in conference on the year) settled for the NIT, stung by – what else – an overtime loss at Washington two days after its Pullman heroics.
Washington State entered the game 10-9 and 5-5 in conference. In head coach Kelvin Sampson's first season, guard David Sanders grew from a second-team player at the start of the year into the team's leading scorer. In the two teams' first meeting, his overtime three-pointer had proven to be the game-winner in the 80-78 victory against Stanford.
The Cardinal strongly resembled the team that would break its NCAA drought the following season. Burly center Eric Reveno sat out the year with a nagging back injury, though he would battle Wright daily in practice. Lichti nursed an injured ankle he re-aggravated in Pullman.
The two foes dug in for a defensive stalemate. Stanford went nine scoreless minutes during the first half while making only 8 of 26 from the floor, only to lead 19-18 at the half. Wright totaled a team-high 20 points to go with 11 rebounds, during a year in which he led the Pac-10 in shooting percentage.
The lead stood at 49-47 in the final minute when Cardinal center Derek Bruton missed a short shot from the paint. The Cougars controlled the rebound and were soon at the foul line. Brian Wright made the first before clanking on the back end, before Anderson swooped in to give Washington State a one-point edge.
"At that point," Montgomery said, "you had to wonder whether there was something to that jinx stuff."
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