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Robyn Norwood ON COLLEGE BASKETBALL

St. Joe's Requires a Quick Recovery

March 12, 2004|Robyn Norwood

Saint Joseph's finally tumbled.

Now, like Stanford, the Hawks have to get up quickly.

Saint Joe's -- the tiny Jesuit university that was this season's Little School That Could -- didn't only lose, the Hawks flopped in spectacular fashion, trailing Xavier by as many as 37 points in an 87-67 loss Thursday in a quarterfinal of the Atlantic-10 tournament.

Until recently, it looked as if a team would enter the NCAA tournament with an undefeated record for the first time since Nevada Las Vegas in 1991.

The 1976 Indiana team's distinction as the last undefeated NCAA champion is officially safe -- probably for years to come.

As for Saint Joe's, its No. 1 ranking will be gone, and a No. 1 seeding in the NCAA tournament is in doubt.

"I'm assuming that the televisions wherever that committee is meeting didn't work," Coach Phil Martelli said hopefully.

The challenge now is to recover, so the Hawks (27-1) don't make an early exit in the NCAA tournament that would leave people thinking this team was less than it was made out to be.

Stanford (27-1) knows the feeling.

The Cardinal was starting to have the look of a probable NCAA tournament upset victim late in the season. The team's best basketball seemed to be behind it.

Stanford was almost upset by Washington State last week, surviving only on Matt Lottich's stunning three-pointer at the buzzer.

Its chance at an undefeated season ended two days later, on Saturday, with a 13-point loss to Washington.

But by losing in the final game of the regular season -- not in the conference tournament -- the Cardinal had an advantage Saint Joe's didn't.

Stanford knew it would play again before the NCAA tournament began.

The Cardinal set about its recovery Thursday with a 68-47 victory over Washington State in a quarterfinal of the Pacific 10 tournament at Staples Center, holding Washington State without a field goal in the first nine minutes.

Martelli might do well to follow Mike Montgomery's lead this week.

The Stanford coach got out video of the Cardinal's better days.

"We wanted to try to get some 'feel-good,' " Montgomery said.

"Usually you watch your bad plays," center Rob Little said. "We watched a highlight film of good plays, against Arizona, Gonzaga, Kansas -- games when we were playing good defense."

They realized what otherwise might not have been obvious to them.

"The kids could see how we were playing hard," Montgomery said. "God, we were getting after it."

Stanford has another advantage over Saint Joe's too.

The Cardinal got better Thursday.

After the team played the last 10 games without Justin Davis, its senior strongman at power forward, he returned from a knee injury and played 11 minutes against Washington State, looking stronger than many hoped.

Had Stanford gone into the NCAA tournament without knowing whether he could contribute, it would have been a confidence-shaking uncertainty.

Nick Robinson, the sixth man who has been so valuable filling in first for injured star Josh Childress and later for Davis, is 6 feet 6 and 200 pounds.

Davis is 6-9, 230.

"He's a guy who can bang with bigger guys and give you a little more defensively," Little said. "All credit to Nick, he's a very clever defender, but you can't 'cheat' size.

"As you get deeper into the tournament and go against teams with bigger, talented post players like Gonzaga, you need that."

The Stanford players also have a head start on Saint Joe's on the emotional recovery after the disappointment of losing their perfect season.

Whether they knew it at the time, the hubbub of being undefeated and the pressure of every game was wearing on them.

"I think maybe in retrospect it was," Robinson said.

Montgomery looked back at the tape.

"We looked tired," he said.

There had been a lot going on. Earlier in the week, the players had to move out of their locker room as renovations on Maples Pavilion began.

Robinson, who is 24 and married after serving a Mormon mission in Brazil, welcomed his first child, a daughter.

"We moved into trailers," Montgomery said. "Pops had a baby. It took forever to get to Pullman, forever to get to Seattle. We went on the floor and we really just didn't have much energy."

Now they're trying to get it back.

"I think a couple of hours after that game Saturday, we were talking and looked at one another and said, 'We really want to win this tournament,' " Robinson said.

The prospect of facing Washington State again after nearly losing to the Cougars was "unsettling," Little admitted.

But Stanford didn't fail.

"We wanted momentum from this game," Little said. "Good positive vibes."

Whether Stanford wins the Pac-10 tournament should be academic for its seeding -- the Cardinal deserves to be No. 1 in the West.

As for Saint Joe's, the shock of the way the Hawks lost might dissuade the committee from giving it a No. 1.

But Saint Joe's had the second-best Ratings Percentage Index rating of any team before the loss, trailing only Duke.

The competition for No. 1s appears to be the Blue Devils -- particularly if they win the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament -- along with the winner of the Southeastern Conference tournament if it is Mississippi State or Kentucky, and Pittsburgh, if it wins the Big East tournament.

But Saint Joe's shouldn't worry about seeding -- a No. 2 historically has proved virtually as good as a No. 1

For Stanford and Saint Joe's, the perfect seasons are over.

The season is not.

"We're not worried about Saint Joe's at all," Lottich said. "We're here to win the Pac-10 tournament and take care of business.

"They had a nice little run, like us."

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