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Stanford Clicks Heels About Playing at Home

West Regional: It's only a short drive, but it means the Cardinal has come a long way and the Bay Area is excited.

March 20, 1997|JASON REID | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN JOSE — Stanford is soaking up every bit of this NCAA Sweet 16 stuff, which has played out even better than the Cardinal expected.

Well-wishing slaps on the back and "atta-boys" are as much a part of Stanford basketball these days as a Brevin Knight crossover dribble. The players couldn't be happier with their newfound status as Bay Area celebrities, and it's easy to understand why.

Stanford is reveling in the moment. No matter how soon the curtain falls, this show has already been a smash hit.

Sixth-seeded Stanford plays second-seeded Utah today in a West Regional semifinal game at the San Jose Arena, only minutes away from Stanford's Palo Alto campus. The Cardinal's first Sweet 16 appearance has energized the entire Bay Area and given Stanford something it's unaccustomed to in these parts: top billing.

"It's been a wild ride," said Knight, Stanford's star point guard. "Everywhere I've gone on campus the past couple of days, everywhere I've gone on the street, people are coming up and congratulating me.

"Everyone knows how important this is for Stanford and for the whole [Bay Area]. Everyone knows the situation we're in."

As NCAA tournament situations go, Stanford couldn't have scripted this better. Palo Alto is about 15 miles north of San Jose, about a 20-minute drive.

Officially, the NCAA considers the San Jose Arena a neutral site. But any way you cut it, Stanford is playing in its backyard.

"This is a big advantage for us," Cardinal center Tim Young said. "We feel like we're going to be playing with our fans behind us."

Stanford isn't new to tournament success. The Cardinal won the 1942 tournament, when only eight teams participated, and reached the second round in 1995 and '96 under Coach Mike Montgomery.

Still, the men's team is a second banana on its own campus to the wildly successful women's program. California, also in the Sweet 16, gets its share of attention. The Giants and A's have followers and apparently there is an NFL team that plays in San Francisco.

"We're really not the team too many people think about around here," Knight said. "That's why this is so important for us."

Toss in that Stanford played giant-killer in the second round, and what happened around here Sunday suddenly makes sense. Phone lines around the Bay Area were jammed with ticket-seekers even before Stanford's 72-66 upset of third-seeded Wake Forest was over.

"Crazy doesn't begin to describe it," said Debra Hall, deputy director of the San Jose Sports Authority. "I usually have two or three voice-mail messages waiting for me when I arrive at the office on Monday.

"I had 40 waiting for me this Monday, and it was the same way for people [involved in sports] all over town. Of course, everyone wanted the same things: tickets."

Good luck finding any.

The Sweet 16 is the hottest ticket in the Bay Area. The event, with two games tonight and the West Regional title game Saturday, has been sold out for four months.

Brokers are charging as much as $500 per ticket for the two sessions, a Los Angeles ticket broker said Wednesday. Scalpers will probably get as much as $300 per ticket today, the broker said.

"Stanford being here has really added to the excitement of the event," said Lawrence Fan, a West Regional spokesman. "The Stanford people are calling all over the place trying to find tickets. This is an incredible environment to be involved in."

Montgomery isn't completely sold on his supposed edge. Not surprisingly, his office and home phone rang nonstop on Sunday and Monday with friends offering congratulations and inquiring about tickets. Stanford moved into a hotel Wednesday, in part to get away from all the hoopla.

"The advantages and disadvantages pretty much offset themselves," Montgomery said. "There may be an advantage if the crowd decides to adopt us as their team; then we could get a lift if they get into the game.

"But with everything else, the demand for tickets, all the other distractions, I'm not sure how much of a benefit it is."

Besides, Utah Coach Rick Majerus said, fans don't win games.

"I've shut down the opposing crowd my entire career," Majerus joked. "I haven't had a fan beat us with a last-second jumper yet."

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