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1. Stanford
Kelli Anderson
November 23, 1998
There's only one thing in short supply for the deep, physical and experienced Cardinal: tickets
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November 23, 1998

1. Stanford

There's only one thing in short supply for the deep, physical and experienced Cardinal: tickets

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STARTING LINEUP

POS.

HT.

CLASS

KEY STAT

SF Peter Sauer#

6'7"

Sr.

9.2 ppg

PF Mark Madsen#

6'8"

Jr.

8.2 rpg

C Tim Young#

7'1"

Sr.

11.3 ppg

SG Kris Weems#

6'3"

Sr.

12.6 ppg

PG Arthur Lee#

6'1"

Sr.

14.5 ppg

'97-98 record: 30-5
Final rank (coaches' poll): No. 4
#Returning starter

It was your basic Intro To Economics problem, and one that, at Stanford anyway, would have been deemed purely theoretical until this October: What happens when the demand for men's basketball tickets exceeds the supply?

Herewith, the case study: One fraternity pledge pitched a tent outside Maples Pavilion 13 days before the 1,200 available student tickets were scheduled to go on sale. Within a week about 60 tents, some furnished with couches, VCRs, Foosball tables, stereos, kegs of beer and, in one case, a movie projector showing Swingers, had sprung up near the arena. A party spirit prevailed—until the entrepreneurial spirit overwhelmed it. A week after the first tent went up, after some students had started selling places in line and the camp-out ceased to be "a linear representation of who was first, second, third..." (as basketball marketing and operations director Jamie Zaninovich put it), the athletic department decided to give out tickets and disperse the tent-dwellers.

O.K., so the students didn't have to endure six more days of hardship waiting in line—did we mention the gas barbecues, the big-screen TVs?—but they were willing to, and therein lies a statement. Cardinal basketball, once about as popular as a 7 a.m. thermodynamics class, has caught fire with fans, and for good reason. With 95% of the scoring and rebounding returning from its first Final Four entry in 56 years, Stanford is SI's pick to win it all in St. Petersburg on March 29. Not bad for a team that six years ago went 7-29 and could muster only 2,532 souls for its home opener.

Coach Mike Montgomery tries to enjoy the increased attention, but he worries because, well, that's just what he does best. While he concedes that this year's team "should be as deep, more physical, more mature and more confident" than last year's, he doesn't want anyone reading too much into that. "It's a little like when a guy has a million dollars, and by the time the story gets around, he has a billion dollars," says the 51-year-old Montgomery. "I certainly have the expectation that we're going to be a good basketball team. You just worry that everyone's going to add to that."

Montgomery also frets, justifiably, about Stanford's schedule—which includes games against Connecticut, Maryland, Temple and the usual Pac-10 killjoys like Arizona, UCLA and Washington—and about how to give 13 talented players enough minutes to keep everyone happy. Will last year's great chemistry dissolve? Will his team lose its focus, get complacent? "No way," says senior point guard Arthur Lee. "So many people are going to doubt us, we'll still feel like an underdog."

Lingering doubts about a team from Palo Alto may be understandable, given Stanford's mostly dismal basketball past. Before the Cardinal's 86-85 overtime loss to Kentucky in the 1998 NCAA semifinals, it had wowed the nation exactly twice: in 1936, when Hank Luisetti's revolutionary one-handed shot helped end LIU's 43-game winning streak, and in '42, when Stanford won its lone NCAA title. The school didn't make the postseason again for 46 years and seldom finished better than .500 in its conference. But since Montgomery arrived from Montana in 1986—amid warnings from colleagues that "you'll never win there"—Stanford has reached the NCAA tournament six times, getting progressively closer to the title game in each of the last three seasons.

That run has helped transform the formerly innocuous Maples Pavilion, a 29-year-old, 7,391-seat concrete box, into the most intimate and arguably the most hostile arena in the Pac-10. Among the features opponents find most unnerving: a bouncy floor that makes every fast break feel like a minor earthquake and the Sixth Man Club, a group of 750 red-shirted students (with a waiting list of 800) who never sit down.

What else does Stanford have going for it? The team is huge: With seven guys 6'7" or taller, its famously physical front line is the country's most imposing. It's deep: There are 10 returning players who averaged 10 or more minutes last season. And it's healthier: The chronic knee problem that sidelined reserve center Jason Collins last year will still force him to take periodic rests, but he should provide some backup for All-America candidate Tim Young, who seems to have put his chronic back woes behind him with a daily stretching routine. "Tim brought his game up to a whole new level over the summer," says forward Mark (Mad Dog) Madsen, who averaged 15.2 points and 12.2 rebounds in the NCAA tournament and made the theatrical dunk that sunk Rhode Island in the Midwest Regional final. Madsen has also benefited from off-season work, which included planting 100 redwoods on his parents' six-acre ranch in Danville, Calif., and honing his jump hook with 100 shots a day. Says guard Kris Weems, "Mad Dog is twice as good as he was at this time last year."

However good the frontcourt is, Stanford's success will again depend largely on Lee, who went from ordinary player to All-America candidate over the course of five tournament games last March, when he averaged 20.6 points and 5.6 assists, made all 35 of his free throws (an NCAA record) and launched the Cardinal into the Final Four. In the final 2:05 against Rhode Island he scored 13 of Stanford's 17 points and made the steal that set up Madsen's winning jam.

Another opportunity for Montgomery to worry: Yes, Lee can score, but will he forget that his real role is to make everyone else better? "Art's ability to make an All-America team and to be drafted in the pros is going to depend on his ability to make us win," says Montgomery. "Where he's gonna make his hay is getting us back to the Final Four and keeping us there."

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