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MARCH MADNESS / NCAA TOURNAMENT

Out Of San Diego

Stanford, a second-round escapee, and Cincinnati know what it feels like to break an NCAA pattern of early exits.

March 19, 2001|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Stanford and Cincinnati reached Anaheim by getting past their old bugaboos in the second round.

Twice in a row and four times in the past six years, Stanford was knocked out after two games.

Four times in a row, that had been Cincinnati's fate.

This time, Stanford reached the Sweet 16 by absorbing the best individual performance of the tournament so far, Marvin O'Connor's 37-point game, and the ferocious upset bid of O'Connor and his St. Joseph's teammates.

"They played superb," Stanford Coach Mike Montgomery said. "You look at the stats, they shot 57% for the game and had a kid get 37 and we still won.

"We took a pretty good shot."

The Cardinal's first-round game was a routine No. 1 versus No. 16 rout: Stanford's 89-60 victory was decided by halftime, when it led North Carolina Greensboro by 21.

But Round 2 took everything Stanford had, and the Cardinal's 90-83 victory might prove to be the sort of near miss that so often seems to steel teams for a run to the Final Four or even the national title.

Stanford's versatility shined through.

Overmatched at the guard positions--hard to imagine, but Casey Jacobsen and Michael McDonald were nowhere near the equal of O'Connor and freshman point guard Jameer Nelson that night--Stanford turned its focus inside.

Down the stretch, when Stanford had to overcome a five-point deficit, the Cardinal went inside to 7-foot twins Jason and Jarron Collins again and again.

They combined to score more than half of Stanford's points over the last eight minutes (15 of 28).

In the final minute, Stanford showed what really might seal the deal in close games: The Cardinal made 10 of 10 free throws in the last 45 seconds.

There has been more talk of Stanford's early exits the last two years than its run to the Final Four in 1998, when only a one-point overtime loss to eventual champion Kentucky kept the Cardinal from playing for its first championship since Stanford won in 1942.

Now that's behind.

"I think it might be a turning point," Jacobsen said. "I don't want to make too big a deal of it, but the second round, it's been haunting us for a while."

Cincinnati, like Stanford, has had national-championship hopes in recent years.

The Bearcats were No. 1 much of last season only to become an also-ran when Kenyon Martin--the eventual No. 1 pick in the NBA draft--broke his leg against St. Louis in the Conference USA tournament.

Cincinnati's chances were as shattered as Martin's leg, and the Bearcats fell in the second round to Tulsa.

With Martin and DerMarr Johnson in the NBA and stalwart Pete Mickeal gone too, this season's team wasn't expected to do much.

Guard Steve Logan is the only player on the roster with more than one season of Division I experience. Point guard Kenny Satterfield is gifted, but only a sophomore, and the rest of the team is made up of youngsters and junior college transfers.

But there was to be no early tournament exit this time.

Brigham Young was a popular upset pick in the first round, but Logan scored 21 points and Cincinnati shot 53% while holding BYU to 40%, turning the game into a blowout with a 12-2 run after halftime.

The Bearcats' second-round opponent was a bona-fide upset threat: Kent State upended Indiana in the first round.

But Cincinnati's defense put the clamps on Trevor Huffman, who went two for 11 with Satterfield's long arms deflecting the star guard's shots and passes.

Andrew Mitchell, Kent State's other talented guard, was three for 12.

Kent State's 27% shooting performance wouldn't have won many games.

Nor would the 43 points Cincinnati limited Kent State to.

But Cincinnati shot 55% as well, cruising into the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1996 with a 66-43 victory.

"We've gotten so much better defensively," said Cincinnati Coach Bob Huggins, whose sideline antics can entertain even during a blowout. (Watch Huggins after a missed dunk: He's likely to chew out an assistant, who in turn will chew out the player.)

This season, the proof of his methods is in the Sweet 16.

"We're tough to score on," Huggins said.

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