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Stanford Grinds Its Gears in Win

Cardinal looks far from polished but surges late to beat Oregon, 70-63, and probably clinch a No. 1 NCAA seeding.

March 13, 2004|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

It was one of those Friday nights when you just had to grind it out.

It began with a singer who badly botched the words to the national anthem and ended with Stanford's hitting just enough high notes to pull out a 70-63 win over Oregon before a late-arriving Staples Center crowd.

The victory earned Stanford a spot in today's Pacific 10 Conference tournament championship and virtually assured the Cardinal of a No. 1 seeding in the NCAA tournament -- and a probable first-round trip to Seattle.

The Cardinal was looking to rebuild some momentum after losing for the first time this season last week at Washington

This time of year, you take what you can get.

Stanford has won two straight games in Los Angeles and is 28-1 overall, although far from a finished product. The top-seeded Cardinal will face second-seeded Washington, a 90-85 winner over Arizona later Friday, in today's championship game.

Many of the fans who trickled into Staples after tipoff got to the game just in time to see a late-arriving Stanford team that overcame a first half in which it produced only three assists and collected not a single offensive rebound.

"We need to get our energy up, fellas," Stanford Coach Mike Montgomery barked from the bench.

Stanford would eventually come around, although it took some time.

The game, in fact, was tied, 61-61, with 2 1/2 minutes left when the Cardinal found its energy burst.

Oregon star Luke Jackson, who was having a cold shooting night, had the ball in his hands and was set to launch what he thought was an open three-point shot when Stanford's Matt Lottich emerged from seemingly nowhere to block it.

The ball bounced to Stanford's Josh Childress, who flipped a quick pass back to Lottich for a fastbreak layup and foul with 2:19 remaining.

Lottich made his free throw to put Stanford up by three points.

After a defensive stop, Joe Kirchofer made a hook shot with 1:30 left to put Stanford up by five.

Childress then put the game away when his two free throws with 20 seconds left gave the Cardinal a seven-point lead.

As for the game-defining block and layup, well, Lottich sensed the whole game was on the line.

"I'm telling you, I know," Lottich said afterward. "If Luke had got that shot off, he would have buried it. He's such a clutch player."

Jackson made only four of 14 shot attempts and was held to 12 points, well below his 21.5 average, but he was looking to make amends when Lottich approached from his blind side.

Jackson blamed himself for not being more aware of his surroundings.

"I didn't even see him," he said. "There's not really any excuse for that. Looking back, I should have pulled it out and got another shot."

Oregon's play could be described as tough, sloppy and desperate.

The Ducks' only chance of making the NCAA tournament was beating Stanford and then winning today to earn the conference's automatic bid.

Oregon made a gritty game of it, and even outrebounded Stanford, 38-34.

"I don't know how many Stanford teams get outrebounded and have zero offensive rebounds in the first half," Oregon Coach Ernie Kent said, somewhat proudly.

The Ducks are 15-12, and they feel good about closing the season with three wins in their last four games.

"We've gotten a lot better," Kent said. "Hopefully we'll get an NIT [National Invitation Tournament] bid and continue to play."

Stanford, of course, has its eye on a bigger prize--the NCAA title--although there is still some work left.

The primary players got their jobs done. Childress, the Pac-10 player of the year, finished with a game-high 18 points. Lottich ended up with 15, although he made only five of 13 from the field. Center Rob Little added 13 points and six rebounds.

Andre Joseph led Oregon with 16 points and center Mitch Platt scored 10.

Joseph said his team matched Stanford's intensity for almost the entire game.

Too bad for the Ducks that NCAA games are not 35 minutes.

"We did that for a good 37 minutes," Joseph said. "Then we broke down in the last three minutes."

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