Dawgs await their fate

  • Paul Gutierrez / Los Angeles Times
  • Saturday, March 13, 2004 9:00pm
  • Sports

LOS ANGELES – So, Mike Montgomery, you’ve just won the Pacific 10 Conference tournament and even though you’ve been one of its most vocal critics, has your attitude changed about the made-for-television shindig?

“No, sir,” the Stanford coach said, “not one lick.”

At least you can count on the Cardinal for consistency. It’s what top-seeded Stanford used to run roughshod over the Pac-10 in losing just once during the regular season. And it went back to its usual efficient self on Saturday in beating second-seeded Washington, 77-66, in the tournament’s title game to claim the league’s automatic NCAA tournament bid.

Not that the Cardinal was sweating things out, mind you.

Stanford, which improved to 29-1, is likely to regain the national No. 1 ranking and the top seed for the West Region of the NCAA tournament when the bracket is announced today.

Washington (19-11) must wait in anxious hope that its bubble did not burst before an announced crowd of 16,413 at Staples Center.

“I’m confident that we should be in; I think we’ve done everything we can to impress the (selection) committee,” said Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, who can point out on the Huskies’ resume their second-place finish in the Pac-10, their three defeats of Arizona and their handing of Stanford its lone loss of the season, which occurred in Seattle last weekend.

“Will we get in?” Romar said with a nervous laugh. “We’ll be sitting in front of the television watching.”

The Huskies, who thrive when a game is played at a playground pace, pushed the tempo in the first half and opened up a six-point advantage, 17-11, at the 14:04 mark.

But the return of Stanford power forward Justin Davis, who had been out with an injured left knee and made his first start since Jan. 29, enabled the Cardinal to maintain a height advantage in the post.

The Cardinal slowed the Huskies’ roll with a patient and efficient half-court offense.

Washington’s lack of interior defense allowed Stanford to penetrate the post at will, leading to a game-turning 12-0 run that extended to a 19-6 spurt over a six-plus minute stretch late in the first half.

“They made a lot of shots early on,” said Cardinal small forward Josh Childress, the Pac-10 player of the year who was also named the tournament’s most outstanding player after going for 14 points, nine rebounds, four assists and two blocks against the Huskies.

“They’re a streaky team, and we knew they could go on a run at any moment. We knew we had to step up the intensity in the second half.”

So the Cardinal did.

After Washington crept within two points, 47-45, with 14:34 remaining in the game, Stanford clamped down on the Husky shooters and continued making its high-percentage shots, taking off on a 12-3 run over a nearly five-minute span to lead by 11, 59-48, with 9:22 to play.

The Huskies would never get closer than five points.

“They’re quick,” Montgomery said. “If you can’t make them pay inside, then your advantage is negated. They rotate well and we had to make them pay for it.

“We got back to what we do. We’re best big, I think. It keeps us on the boards.”

Stanford outrebounded Washington, 42-33, outscored the Huskies in the paint, 48-26, and shot 52.5 percent from the field.

Senior shooting guard Matt Lottich had a game-high 20 points.

Plus, the Cardinal’s man-to-man defense throttled the Huskies.

In their semifinal win over Arizona, the Huskies made 12 three-pointers while shooting 48% from beyond the arc. Against the Cardinal, Washington was just three of 17 (17.6%) on its three-point attempts, not making any after the eight-minute mark of the first half.

Tre Simmons said that playing three games in three days took its toll on the legs of the Huskies, who were led by Nate Robinson’s 16 points.

“I think mentally, it got us,” said Simmons, who suffered through a 3-for-10 shooting day. “I can’t play good every day.”

Stanford was anything but good in its two previous trips to the Pac-10 tournament, getting eliminated twice by USC in first-round games.

Montgomery took those losses in stride, though, especially with the Cardinal’s berths in the NCAA already ensured and with his players knee-deep in school work.

“I have a tremendous sympathy for what these guys have to go through the next week,” Montgomery said of his players while getting another dig in at the league tournament. “It was nice to be here for three days to see how it’s run, though.”

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