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Lupin: Cardinal has a chance to make Stanford-Arizona meaningful again

When the Stanford men’s basketball team hosts the top-ranked and undefeated Arizona Wildcats tonight at 6 p.m. at Maples Pavilion, the Cardinal (13-6, 4-3 Pac-12) will do all it can to make life difficult for the heavily favored Wildcats (20-0, 7-0), who enter the matchup riding the longest win streak in school history.

To understand the gravity of a game in which Arizona will put its school-best win streak on the line, some background on both the history of the Stanford-Arizona matchup, and on a more personal level, my attachment to the rivalry as a lifelong Stanford basketball fan, is in order.

For those who are perhaps a bit unfamiliar with the basketball history between these two schools, a quick refresher might be useful.

Mens basketball against washington - cover photo?

If Stanford wants to knock off No. 1 Arizona, junior guard Chasson Randle (5) will have to perform at his best. (FRANK CHEN/The Stanford Daily)

Between 1998 and 2005, Stanford and Arizona were the dominant basketball powers on the West Coast. During the formative years of my basketball fandom, back when the floor at Maples visibly bounced at the mercy of the stomping Sixth Man Club, the Cardinal and the Wildcats combined to win seven of eight Pac-10 titles. The only year one of these two teams didn’t win the conference championship, 2002, they tied for second.

The two schools combined to finish first and second together in the conference standings six times during that stretch, with the only exceptions coming during the aforementioned 2002 season, and 2005, when Stanford tied for third.

In other words, Stanford was a basketball school, and Stanford-Arizona was the yearly climax of the Pac-10 basketball season. The games between the two teams often decided the outcome of the conference race, and from 2001 until a certain game in 2004 — a stretch of six straight contests — the road team peculiarly won every matchup in the series.

Stanford basketball had reached its pinnacle during the 2003-04 season, when the team put its 19-game win streak and No. 2 national ranking on the line to host No. 12 Arizona. What ensued on Feb. 7, 2004 was a back-and-forth affair that is hard to describe, and is now probably best experienced on YouTube.

There was a dramatic Stanford rally in the final minute of the game, complete with a bouncing Tiger (Tigger?) Woods at courtside, an absolutely raucous student section, and the most wonderfully ludicrous shot in Stanford basketball history, a running 35-footer by Nick Robinson as time expired to complete the comeback. Maples Pavilion exploded, the Stanford winning streak would continue and the Cardinal would end the conference season as Pac-10 champions, much to the delirious delight of this then-11-year-old.

Shortly thereafter, however, the precipitous decline of Stanford basketball began. The Cardinal was upset in the second round of the tournament by Alabama in a dubiously officiated game, head coach Mike Montgomery left for the NBA, the Maples floor was “fixed” and Stanford’s streak of 11 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances came to an end in 2006. Aside from the Lopez-led run to the Sweet Sixteen in 2008, Stanford basketball has failed to return to the previously lofty heights set during that eight-year span. My 11-year-old self would have been crestfallen to learn that this was the future that would befall my beloved Cardinal.

So it seems only fitting that if the much-beleaguered Johnny Dawkins era of Stanford basketball is ever going to have a turnaround, tonight would be the place to start, a week shy of the 10-year anniversary of Robinson’s heroics.

Stanford’s senior class is talented and likable, if at times mercurial and inconsistent. The Cardinal features a junior guard in Chasson Randle, who, barring injury, is going to finish his career as one of the top three scorers in school history. And as good as they are, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who thinks the Wildcats can keep their win streak going all season.

As I sit up in the press box tonight to take in the game, I will attempt to maintain ‘neutrality,’ as any ‘professional’ sports writer should. I will not participate in the chants of the student section, I will not cheer or clap. I will not yell at the refs for a bad call.

But if you think that I won’t be rocking my vintage Casey Jacobsen jersey under my shirt, or that I won’t be praying to the basketball gods during every single free throw, you’d be sadly mistaken. The 11-year-old in me lives on. Let’s bring back the magic to Maples.

Contact Daniel Lupin at delupin ‘at’ stanford.edu.

  • AZBearDown

    Should be a good game. Best of luck and Bear Down Arizona!

  • Candid One

    @D.E.L., in your “youth” (still there,dude), you’ve overlooked the collateral decline of the Lute Olson era at Arizona. The Wildcats went into a slump that benefited Stanford’s talent cycle. Your image of Stanford basketball coincides with two sets of 7-ft. twins who wore the Cardinal uniform. Aside from the Brevin Knight effect, no other factors have spurred Stanford’s basketball successes as much. The end of the last twins’ Stanford careers is significant to the Cardinal’s subsequent lackluster records. Let us know when such largess occurs again. Whether Stanford generates another Maples Miracle tonight, this is still a rebuilding era, regardless of who sits in the head coach’s office. Basketball talent is different–and better–today than it was 20 years ago, or 10 years ago. Maybe Jabari Parker would’ve changed the situation, probably not enough.

  • Daniel Lupin

    @Candid One:disqus I appreciate your commentary and feedback on the article- it’s great to see that people read what I write. I am by no means out of my youth, but I’m also not 11 anymore haha.

    I think you’ve misconstrued my point. Both of these programs were great at the same time- Arizona’s slump took place after the period I mentioned, in which BOTH programs dominated the conference year in and year out. From ’98-’05, Zona reached a national championship game, 3 Elite Eights, and a Sweet Sixteen-hardly a down cycle. And at no point did Arizona’s “slump”, which occurred between 2006-10, benefit Stanford’s talent cycle: the three best players that attended Stanford during Arizona’s slump- the Lopez twins and Landry Fields- either had no interest in attending Arizona from the outset (the Lopii are legacies), or in Fields’ case, were the type of player coming out of high school that Stanford routinely gets even today. He was only a three-star prospect who happened to grow 3 inches in college. Not to mention, Stanford essentially fielded one good team and one mediocre team during that time period.

    I also think you overestimate the impact both set of twins had on Stanford’s program. While all four were undeniably valuable players during their time on the Farm, neither Jason nor Jarron was ever the best player on the team, while the Lopezes’ career essentially amounted to one dominant season. Many of the best seasons in Stanford basketball history did not feature a single twin on the roster, and to say that Stanford basketball history has revolved around two sets of twins would be to sell a lot of really good players short.

    Montgomery clearly recruited players that were good enough, and established a culture of winning that the program currently lacks. It’s hard to argue that this current team should be in a rebuilding mode considering it features a starting lineup fully composed of upperclassmen, many of whom will finish their individual careers as some of the all-time leaders in school history in several major statistical categories.

  • sluggh

    “Heavily favored”? The opening line was -4.

  • Candid One

    You’ve overly conflated Landry Fields with a successful Stanford period. Fields wasn’t a serious contributor until the Lopez twins and Trent Johnson left, and Dawkins arrived, after which he evolved to a one-man show in 2010 to little avail. It wasn’t much consolation to have the conference’s leading scorer in a losing season.