Few in sports personify delivering under fire more than Tim Duncan. Few have made it look so easy. The former No. 1 overall pick has collected his trove of NBA championship rings with all the intensity of a maid shutting the hotel room drapes.
Is it actually possible to fluster the former youth swimming prodigy from the U.S. Virgin Islands?
It happened on this date in 1997.
The signature moments of the NCAA West regional second round tilt, when Stanford defeated Wake Forest by a 72-66 score at Arizona's McKale Center, saw the Cardinal grind the seemingly unflappable Duncan into submission.
Four members of the Cardinal frontcourt combined for 13 fouls while defending that year's Naismith Award winner. Pete Van Elswyk backhanded an elbow. Mark Madsen gave him a shove. Tim Young threw in a body block for good measure. Mark Seaton pushed and pulled.
"There always was someone behind me and always someone in front of me,'' Duncan said after the game. "They had so many people in the lane I couldn't get a clear look at the basket.
"They went in to play a physical game and knock me around. That's exactly what they did."
Minutes after halftime, not long after Stanford turned an early 16-5 lead into a 40-24 edge, Duncan couldn't stand it any longer. He blew his top. The 6-foot-10 All-American screamed at his teammates. He threw up his arms in disbelief at head coach Dave Odom, who responded by doing the same.
Campus Drive stunned Tobacco Road, giving the Pac-10 four teams in the Sweet 16. It was a momentous upset for Stanford, which won just its seventh all-time NCAA tournament game. The excitement the team felt on Selection Sunday – first and second round games in Arizona sounded a lot better than previous sojourns to Greensboro, Cincinnati, Albany and Providence – gave way to pure joy a week later.
"This is heaven," Brevin Knight said after scoring 19 points and dishing five assists.
Steve Lavin's first UCLA squad had already joined Cal, now with Ben Braun in charge, in qualifying for the second weekend. No. 7-seeded Arizona survived two close shaves and hardly resembled an eventual national champ.
The locals back in Tuscon hosted a subregional that produced blowouts by an average of 16 points through the first five games. No. 6-seed Stanford beat Oklahoma with relative ease in the opening round. Wake Forest thumped St. Mary's, surviving early sluggishness and derailing the upset hopes of coach Ernie Kent and 7-foot-3 center Brad "Big Continent" Millard.
The weekend's final game figured to be different, and it had an interesting back story. Stanford's Mike Montgomery coached the Under-22 U.S. national team in the summer of 1996, when Duncan joined Knight and Young on the roster.
The Demon Deacons were a tested but weary group, led by senior veterans who had battled North Carolina and Maryland for ACC supremacy (Duke was momentarily down, failing to advance past the second round for the third straight year). Wake Forest was once 18-1 and No. 2 in the national polls before slipping to a No. 3 seed. The Cardinal came in relaxed at 21-7, riding a six-game winning streak.
Things were physical from the start. This was no lazy Sunday in the desert. The officials backed off amidst the slugfest
"Now the dye is cast," Billy Packer said on the CBS telecast, commenting on the lack of whistles.
It became just as clear which team was the aggressor. Young – who logged just 14 minutes with foul trouble – sat out much of the first half, but the collective work of his frontcourt mates kept Wake Forest off balance. The Deacons scored the game's opening hoop but never led thereafter.
Stanford forced Wake to go 6:29 of the first half without a field goal, and then another 5:46 without a single basket. Duncan turned the ball over six times, rendering his seemingly impressive line – 18 points, 20 rebounds and three blocks – basically ineffective.
The Cardinal then only added to a 25-19 halftime lead, embarking on a 15-5 run to begin the second 20 minutes of play.
By now, the most dedicated of Stanford's fanatics were beside themselves. Years of torment, as in watching Stanford teams elevate everyone from Tommy Maddox, Marc Brown, and J. Torchio from unknowns to world-beaters, suddenly gave way to the unthinkable: The Cardinal rendering a proven star invisible. Duncan would go the last 14:58 of his college career without a single point.
Stanford indeed finished the job, but not without some tense moments. Wake Forest guards Jerry Braswell and Tony Rutland combined for 29 points in the second half, cutting the Cardinal lead to just 66-62 with a minute to go.
Enter the late heroics of Pete Sauer and Arthur Lee. Sauer hit two huge jumpers in the final minutes. Lee's tip-in made it 68-62 with 27 seconds remaining added some wiggle room, something of a luxury in a game with 44 fouls.
"They kept bodies on me," Duncan said. "It was frustrating at
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