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MARCH MADNESS / NCAA TOURNAMENT

Stanford, Cincinnati Reverse Roles

West Regional: Cardinal is the hunted for Bearcat team that was in similar position last season.

March 22, 2001|DIANE PUCIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The questions were so predictable.

To Stanford forward Ryan Mendez went the one about how good it must be to play with kids who have such high IQs. Because, geez, aren't those smart kids whizzes when it comes to game plans?

And to Cincinnati Coach Bob Huggins, what about that reported 8% graduation rate of Bearcat players? For it is the perception that Huggins recruits only reprobates and itinerants interested only in apprenticing for the pros.

It is what we are supposed to see Thursday night in this NCAA West Regional semifinal between top-seeded Stanford (30-2) and fifth-seeded Cincinnati (25-9): a morality play of a game between the student-athletes from Stanford and the athletes from Cincinnati.

"But you know," Mendez said, "we have guys with 1,400, 1,500 on their SATs who don't know where to go on a basketball court."

And Huggins patiently explained that he has players who were some credits short of graduation and who had offers with six-figure salaries attached to come play basketball in Europe.

'I can't get those kids a job right out of college making that much. I will not be self-serving, making them finish school right away to make me look good. I tell them to go to Europe and come back and finish a degree afterward."

In other words, Huggins had players with IQs high enough to figure out where a good salary could be found.

So let's dispense with morality and get on to basketball.

This season has unfolded differently for the Cardinal and the Bearcats.

Stanford has been ranked No. 1 or nearly so all season. And yet it seems to some Cardinal players that everyone is waiting for them to be upset losers. After all, it happened two years ago in the second round--Gonzaga shocked Stanford. And it happened last season in the second round--North Carolina upset Stanford.

Three years ago the Cardinal did the shocking, making it to the Final Four.

"And that's been in my thoughts a lot," senior Mendez said. "We've had devastating losses the last few years. The first time you're at the Final Four, you don't know what to expect. We've wanted to get back, not for us seniors but for our teammates. So they'll have more hunger in the future. We can tell stories, but it's hard for them to relate if they haven't been there."

The Bearcats know about the pressure of being highly ranked. Cincinnati was a big favorite most of last season until power forward Kenyon Martin broke a leg in the Conference USA tournament.

Martin went off to the NBA after Cincinnati went quietly out of last year's NCAA tournament in the second round. The Bearcats were rebuilding this season. And the rebuilding was a struggle until midseason, when two talented, feisty, strong-willed point guards figured out how split up their duties.

It took that long for junior Steve Logan to accept that the Bearcats would be better if he became the scorer, while sophomore Kenny Satterfield, one of those New York City point guards who always seem to have eyes in the back of their heads, handled the ball.

"This was hard at first," Satterfield said. "We're both comfortable now though."

"It was hard at first," Logan said, "but Kenny is determined to win and you can't lose when you play with a guy that has that much passion."

Logan and Satterfield think they will be the key, that they will have to set the tempo, that they will have to be strong-minded and strong-willed enough to harass and bother Stanford.

"As a guard you have to control the tempo," Satterfield said. "And in this matchup, I think we have the advantage in the back court."

"Yeah," Logan said. "We have to block the [Collins] twins down low and then it's up to Kenny and me."

Stanford point guard Mike McDonald is used to this assessment, that he is Stanford's vulnerability.

"Every team tries to pressure us," McDonald said, "because I'm supposed to be the weak link. It hasn't worked much, though. Our team is sturdy. We get it done. All of us."

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