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West Slide Story / Top-seeded Stanford, No. 2 Gonzaga knocked out in the second round

Fortunately for Alabama, Cardinal Runs Out of Miracles

March 21, 2004|Robyn Norwood | Times Staff Writer

SEATTLE — Everybody on the Stanford bench, surely half the fans in KeyArena and one very nervous coach on the Alabama sideline had to be thinking the same thing Saturday.

"I'm sitting over there with about 15 seconds to go in the game, thinking, 'Are you kidding me? It's going to happen to us,' " Alabama Coach Mark Gottfried said.

But Stanford ran out of miracles when Dan Grunfeld's three-point shot at the buzzer to try to send the game to overtime bounded off the rim, and Alabama celebrated a 70-67 second-round upset of the top-seeded and No. 1-ranked Cardinal.

Stanford was the first of the NCAA tournament's four No. 1-seeded teams to fall.

"I think they definitely feared -- and we definitely had a sense on the bench -- that maybe this would be one of those magical moments again where we could pull it out," Stanford center Rob Little said.

Not this time.

Down by eight points with 29 seconds to go, Stanford cut the lead to three with the help of two three-point baskets by Matt Lottich, the last one with nine seconds left.

When Alabama's Earnest Shelton missed two free throws with six seconds left, the Cardinal had one last chance and no timeouts -- but visions of last-second victories over Arizona and Washington State were on almost everyone's minds.

"Yeah, it felt like it could happen again, but obviously it didn't," Stanford point guard Chris Hernandez said.

Nick Robinson, the hero of the Arizona game, rebounded Shelton's miss, pushed the ball upcourt and got it to Grunfeld, perhaps 20 feet from the basket.

"I didn't even think about it, I just rose up and shot it," Grunfeld said, still red-eyed after the game. "It didn't go in. When it left my hands, I thought maybe it had a chance, but it didn't go in. I don't know what happened. I ended up on the ground, and I did see it graze off the rim."

Stanford Coach Mike Montgomery's voice seemed to crack with emotion when he talked about the final game of a team that won its first 26 before losing to Washington in the final game of the regular season. Stanford finished 30-2, with the school's fifth second-round loss in six years.

"It's hard to figure out what to say," Montgomery said. "It is really difficult. These kids have accomplished so much this year and it is so hard to end it in this particular situation."

For eighth-seeded Alabama, it will not end until at least next week, when the Crimson Tide will face Syracuse in a regional semifinal Thursday in Phoenix.

The Crimson Tide (19-12) trailed by two at halftime, then opened the second half in a one-for-17 tailspin.

Stanford went up by 13 points, 53-40, with 9:13 to play.

Then Alabama stormed back, with three-point baskets by Kennedy Winston, Shelton and Antoine Pettway keying a 16-0 run.

Winston led Alabama with 21 points and seven rebounds.

"We went on a cold streak in the second half and weren't making all the shots we should make," Pettway said. "On a timeout, Coach was telling us that we have been here before and we can come back and win the game."

Gottfried -- an assistant to Jim Harrick on the UCLA team that won the 1995 NCAA title -- reminded the team its mettle had been tested in the Southeastern Conference.

"We were down 22 at Arkansas," Gottfried said. "Georgia comes to mind, where we struggled to make some baskets and found a way to win. It says a lot about the character of our guys, to have a stretch like that and not get down."

Stanford lost despite making 10 more field goals and getting 20 more rebounds than Alabama.

But Alabama outscored Stanford by 26 at the line, and made 10 of 14 free throws in the final 1:03.

Stanford also played the last 3:16 without its best player, junior Josh Childress, who fouled out after being called for his fourth and fifth fouls within 16 seconds.

Childress finished with 12 points, making only five of 17 shots. Justin Davis led Stanford with 15, and Hernandez and Lottich had 11 each, though Lottich made only four of 15 shots, three of 11 from three-point range.

Hernandez sat alone in the locker room, seemingly agonizing over the loss.

"In all my years of playing, the last game I always felt either the other team was better or they just beat us. But this team could have done a lot more."

Hernandez is a junior. But Lottich, Davis and Joe Kirchofer are seniors.

"It was hard, but overall the reflection is of such a wonderful season, a wonderful senior season," said Lottich, who made the last-second three-point basket that beat Washington State.

"It didn't end the way we wanted, but it only ends for one team the way they want."


No. 1 Undoings

Stanford's loss Saturday marked the 11th time since 1985 (the year the NCAA tournament went to a 64-team format) that a No. 1 regional-seeded team lost in the second round:


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