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MARCH MADNESS / NCAA TOURNAMENT | WEST AT SAN DIEGO

Stanford Dodges Shot by St. Joseph's

March 18, 2001|CHRIS DUFRESNE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — So now Stanford makes plans for Anaheim and tiny St. Joseph's heads back to the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

But, oh, if not for a few turns Saturday.

Top-seeded Stanford survived a furious second-half rally and a spectacular 37-point performance by junior guard Marvin O'Connor to beat No. 9 St Joseph's, 90-83, in a West Regional game before a crowd of 11,091 at Cox Arena.

There was a winner. And a loser.

But it didn't feel that way.

"So, we lost," St. Joseph's Coach Phil Martelli said. "We go home, collect the uniforms. But you know what you saw. We didn't lose."

The score was posted and it goes down as recorded.

But Martelli was right.

We saw what we saw.

We saw O'Connor make 15 of his 20 shots, make the crowd give him a standing ovation when he fouled out with 11.9 seconds left, make Stanford star Casey Jacobsen, the man primarily assigned to stop O'Connor, approach him afterward.

"I said, 'It was a privilege to play with you on the court today,' " Jacobsen said he told O'Connor. "That's the biggest compliment you can pay a player.

"I tried. I hope he knows I tried to get him."

We saw what we saw, a game in which favored Stanford could not draw a deep breath until O'Connor fouled out.

St. Joseph had rallied from 10 points down in the second half to take a five-point lead with 8:25 left.

It was an 80-80 game with less than a minute remaining, the crowd growing louder as the rim seemed to grow smaller.

Stanford led, 84-80, when Ryan Mendez, the nation's leading free throw shooter at 94.3%, stepped to the line.

Jacobsen kept screaming, "This game's not over yet."

To which Mendez replied: "If I make these it's over."

Mendez did make both shots, but it wasn't over, because O'Connor was still on the floor.

On March 3, in a one-point loss to La Salle, he scored 18 points in the final minute to nearly rally his team to victory.

Saturday, after Mendez extended the Stanford lead to six, O'Connor's three-pointer promptly cut it in half with 12.7 seconds left.

St Joseph's fouled quickly on the in-bounds pass.

O'Connor was there. He had no choice but to foul, but it was his fifth.

With 11.9 seconds left, Jarron Collins made two free throws to clinch the win.

The headline is closer to "Stanford Survives" than "Stanford Wins."

After second-round NCAA exits the last two years, the Cardinal passed a significant psychological threshold and now plays Cincinnati on Thursday at the Arrowhead Pond in the West Regional semifinals.

A Stanford defeat would have transformed a second-round jinx into a full-fledged hex.

The school might have had to call in a witch doctor.

Historically, there is no quarter given for great teams that are bounced out early in the tournament.

"There's always a 'but' attached," Stanford Coach Mike Montgomery said. "It gets old, it gets tiring, but you know you have to deal with it."

Stanford had plenty to deal with Saturday, namely the guard combination of freshman Jameer Nelson, who shredded the Stanford defense for 14 points, nine rebounds and nine assists, and O'Connor, who scored 29 of his 37 in the second half.

Stanford never trailed in the first half, leading twice by 14 points and by nine at the half.

But the game's complexion changed when Cardinal point guard Mike McDonald had to leave the game with 17:42 left after picking up his fourth foul and Stanford up by eight, 49-41.

St Joseph's quickly took advantage of McDonald's absence and eventually seized its first lead at 59-58 on center Alexandre Sazonov's basket with 10:10 left.

Stanford simply had no answer for O'Connor, who made several shots despite furious attempts by Jacobsen and others to track him on the court.

O'Connor sensed the Cardinal might be cracking under the pressure.

"I thought at one point, when we were making our run, that maybe it was a 'here-we-go-again' situation," O'Connor said of Stanford. "But they're an experienced club, they've been through this."

In fact, Stanford did not buckle. It went to Jason Collins when it counted--he finished with a team-high 22 points-- and it made free throws.

Stanford doesn't lose games at the free throw line, making 74.1% as a team.

In the final minute, the Cardinal made 10 without a miss and 31 of 37 overall.

The effort preempted talk of Stanford choking away another Final Four opportunity.

The emotion around the Cardinal was palpable.

"For Coach Montgomery, it was probably relief," Jacobsen said. "For me, it was joy."

And maybe a little relief too.

Last year, on his 19th birthday, Jacobsen went two for 12 in Stanford's second-round loss to North Carolina.

Saturday, Jacobsen finished with 21 points.

He had his troubles on O'Connor, but there were extenuating circumstances.

"That was one of the most--the most--amazing performances that I've seen of a player I've guarded," he said. "I thought I did a good job on him. I worked my butt off to try and be where he was, to get through screens, and he still had 37."

Stanford improved to 30-2 on the season. The Cardinal is now 11-0 on the road and 7-0 on neutral courts.

St. Joseph finished a disbelieving 26-7.

Martelli said Saturday's locker room was the toughest he has ever had to enter.

"I wear my emotions on my sleave," Martelli said. "It wasn't easy for me to be the adult in there."

Martelli gave Stanford credit, but his was not a concession speech.

He saw what he saw.

"I told them 26 scores have been for our side," he said, "but at no time all year did we win more than we did today."

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