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Stanford's Defense Leads Win

Washington State makes only 12 field goals in a 68-47 first-round loss to the Cardinal.

March 12, 2004|Bill Dwyre | Times Staff Writer

For Stanford's nationally acclaimed basketball team, Thursday was a time to exorcise its only demon, a 75-62 loss to Washington in the last game of the regular season last week. That cost the Cardinal a chance for an unbeaten season and also this week's No. 1 ranking.

No burning incense or religious chants were needed, just a smothering defense in the first half that clogged every Washington State scoring lane and set the tone for Stanford's 68-47 rout in the first game of the Pacific 10 Conference tournament at Staples Center.

Washington State, which had come within a split second of defeating the Cardinal at Pullman last week -- missing the upset chance that the Huskies handled two days later -- failed to score in its first nine chances. When Isaiah Simmons finally made a free throw for the Cougars, the clock showed 12 minutes 34 seconds left in the half. With 10:52 to go, Marcus Moore scored Washington State's first basket.

With six minutes to go, it was 22-5, and Stanford Coach Mike Montgomery said there was a reason for that.

"It's because we really played hard, played with a lot of energy," Montgomery said. "We have guys who are willing to play a long time with a lot of energy, and we have to do that to be successful. I'm not sure, but I think I might have convinced them of that today."

Montgomery said that last week's near miss at Pullman, a game won on a three-point heave at the buzzer by Matt Lottich, meant that Washington State had Stanford's attention.

"We had to set the tone with our defense to start the game, and we did," Montgomery said.

Hard to argue with that, especially when Washington State was held to six-of-26 shooting from the field in the first half, only 23%, and was held to 12 field goals in the game.

Coach Dick Bennett, who in his first season with the Cougars has taken them from hopeless doormat to the beginnings of respectability, saw the same things Montgomery saw.

"We got off to a very poor start," said Bennett, whose 13-16 finish was the best at the school since its 18-11 NIT run in 1995-96. "We seemed to be tight. But they had a lot to do with that. Stanford did a wonderful job off our ball screens. In Pullman last week, we shook a lot of guys loose on those for some open looks, but today they stopped that."

Defeating Washington State is not a new thing for Stanford, of course. This was the Cardinal's 17th win in a row over the Cougars, and it was a happy occasion for Stanford for more reasons than simply winning. The victory featured 14 minutes, seven points and four rebounds from Justin Davis, the 6-foot-9 senior who has sat out the last 10 games because of a knee injury and left Stanford with a considerable height-and-heft gap in the middle.

"It's been seven weeks since he has done anything at all," Montgomery said. "In practice on Monday, he played a little. Then, Tuesday, he got really active. The doctor said that his knee would pretty much tell him how he could go, but once he did, it was a huge psychological boost for our team, having him out there. He is a difference-maker."

Josh Childress, one of Stanford's stars, made eight of 11 from the field, finished with 17 points and said the presence of Davis made him very happy.

"I loved it," Childress said.

Washington State, much more gritty than talented, had its best chance early in the second half when Moore, an Inglewood Dominguez High product playing in his last college game, made two quick three-pointers. But point guard Chris Hernandez, long-range shooter Lottich and Childress each made baskets and, quickly, the second half disintegrated into a final 10 minutes of garbage time.

"Every time we would threaten, they would close the door," Bennett said.

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