URI, Stanford in Final Eight
By Jennifer Frey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 21, 1998; Page E1
ST. LOUIS, March 20 This time, Bryce Drew's last two three-point attempts could not find the basket. This time, the little team that could the little Indiana team named Valparaiso could not craft itself another stunning upset. The Rhode Island Rams played the role of spoiler as Valparaiso, this year's lovable NCAA underdog, fell, 74-68, to the Rams in a round-of-16 game at Kiel Center tonight.
It was a night that broke hearts all over the basketball-crazy state of Indiana. In the early game, Indiana's other remaining representative in this tournament, second-seeded Purdue, fell to Stanford, 67-59, in a game that involved blood, bruises and banging-and not much in the way of pretty shot selection.
And so on Sunday, Stanford, a program that has not been to the Final Four since 1942 (the year it won its only title) and followed that with a 47-year tournament drought, will fight for that honor against Rhode Island, a team that has never set foot on a Final Four floor. In fact, in his first year as head coach of the Rhode Island program, Jim Harrick has taken the Rams deeper into the NCAA tournament than any coach in school history.
It was not an easy road for the Rams, who, as the eighth seed, were favored to beat the 13th seeded Crusaders, even though they were unexpected visitors to the Midwest Region semifinal as well. Rhode Island was facing a team with heart and emotion not to mention an excellent motion offense and a team that had clearly captured the heart of the crowd. Here tonight, Stanford fans cheered for Valparaiso. Purdue fans swallowed their own disappointment and, Hoosiers to the core, cheered for Valparaiso. And then there were the Valparaiso fans themselves, who formed a pretty loud cheering section considering the size of their school (3,500 students) and their town (25,000).
And the Crusaders certainly gave them all reason to stick around. Despite falling behind by 11 points early in the second half, Valparaiso rallied to tie the game at 54-54 with 12 minutes 9 seconds to play after Jamie Sykes hit two three-pointers, followed by another three-pointers from freshman Bill Jenkins and capped by a driving basket from Drew. They remained close but never took the lead as the game rolled down to its closing minute. With 3:54 to play, an intentional foul called on Rhode Island's Cuttino Mobley helped pull the Crusaders within 64-63 with the ball in their possession. They failed to convert, and the Rams blocked two shots in the next few minutes to widen their lead.
This game, though, was far from over. After Antonio Reynolds-Dean missed two free throws with 51.1 seconds to play, Drew launched a three-point shot to cut the score to 71-68 with 41.8 left. The Rams made their next two free throws, then Valparaiso took control of the ball with a four-point deficit to cover and 33.3 seconds to do so.
After a skirmish knocked the ball out of bounds, Drew got control outside and faked, then launched a three pointer that fell an inch shy of the net. Drew-whose dramatic three-pointer to beat Mississippi in the first round remains this tournament's most memorable moment-threw up one more three before the buzzer sounded.
The game was a far cry from the one played here earlier, one Stanford Coach Mike Montgomery described as a battle between "two heavyweight, punch-drunk fighters, kinda swaying back and forth." And one of his seniors, Pete Sauer, summed up the outcome with this statement: "At the end, we were kind of the ones standing."
Actually, players in both locker rooms were quick with the boxing references after the outcome, and with good reason. Brad Miller, the Purdue center, went to his bench to staunch the bleeding from his chin three times, and spent the postgame in the trainers' room getting stitched. Brian Cardinal who is not a Cardinal, but rather a Boilermaker forward had skid marks on the knee pads he wears to suit the charge-taking, floor-diving game that earned him the nickname "Citizen Pain."
Their efforts meant little, though, in the face of a Stanford lineup that includes six players who stand 6-feet-8 or taller, including 7-foot-1 center Tim Young.
"We weren't able to counter-attack," Cardinal said. "They were awfully big, just big and strong, and we weren't able to overpower them. That was the problem point in the game.
The difference on the boards in the first half was staggering: Stanford had 29 rebounds to Purdue's 11. Twelve of those rebounds were on the offensive end of the court, where Stanford scored 15 second-chance points in the first half to Purdue's 0.
This is how dominant Stanford was in the first half: Even when Young was on the bench for the final 6:41 with the three fouls, the Cardinal outscored Purdue 21-5 to take an 11-point lead into the locker room.
The key to that hot stretch was forward Jarron Collins, a freshman, who scored 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds-both numbers double his regular season averages-in the seven minutes he played off the bench in the first half.
"That was unbelievable," Montgomery said of the late first-half run, "based on the way the first half was going.
Lucky for Stanford, offensive productivity was not a factor in the second half of the game. Consider this: For a five-minute stretch midway through the second half, Stanford played five solid minutes without its entire front line-Young and Madsen were in foul trouble, and Sauer on the bench in favor of the quicker David Moseley. The Cardinal missed 11 straight field goal attempts. The team shot .267 from the field.
Meanwhile, Stanford's two starting guards, Kris Weems and Arthur Lee, continued the offensive struggles that made them a combined 3-for-21 for the night.
And none of it mattered. The Boilermakers simply could not get back into the game.
"It was definitely one of the most physical games I've ever been a part of," Cardinal said. "We weren't able to do the things inside we're used to doing."
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