The Cardinal is headed to St. Louis for NCAA appearance

The Stanford men's basketball team fulfilled one of its top goals of the season by qualifying for the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008 and the first time under coach Johnny Dawkins.

The Cardinal (21-12) received a No. 10 seed and will meet No. 7 New Mexico (27-6) on Friday at 10:40 a.m. (TBS) in the first round of the South Regional, which features overall No. 1 seed Florida and Pac-12 opponents Colorado (seeded eighth) and UCLA (seeded fourth).

The Stanford-New Mexico winner will most likely meet No. 2 Kansas in the second round. The Jayhawks meet No. 15 Eastern Kentucky in their first game.

For seniors Dwight Powell, Josh Huestis, John Gage and Robbie Lemons, the at-large berth is the realization of a dream they all brought to Stanford out of high school.

Seniors Aaron Bright and Andy Brown, along with redshirt juniors Stephan Nastic and Anthony Brown, can also jump into the celebration for their contributions over the years. Bright and Andy Brown missed the season with injuries.

For junior Chasson Randle, Nastic and Anthony Brown, perhaps it marks the reemergence of the Cardinal as a player on the national scene.

"I was nervous just not knowing what would happen and where we would be placed," Randle said. "Crazy things have happened to teams with better resumes than us. So it was a waiting game."

A top 25 recruiting class will join freshmen Marcus Allen, Malcolm Allen and Schuyler Rimmer, and other returning players, next year.

Dawkins, under the pressure of a directive made by athletic director Bernard Muir following last year's disappointing finish, continued to believe in his team all year even when the Cardinal seemed to underachieve.

Stanford played its best basketball when it needed, winning twice in the Pac-12 tournament last week after finishing in a five-way tie for third, to assure its spot in the big dance, which includes five other conference teams.

"It was a relief," Randle said. "We finally get the chance to make a run in the tournament. A lot hand shakes going around the room. We're excited for the opportunity on Friday."

A tough preseason schedule, which included NCAA qualifiers Pittsburgh, Michigan and Connecticut on the road and BYU at home, also helped the Cardinal in reaching its goal.

Overall, Stanford, which plays in St. Louis this weekend, was 5-9 against the field this season.

Stanford possesses a 21-15 record in NCAA tournament competition and is making its 17th appearance overall. The Cardinal was a No. 3 seed during its last tournament appearance in 2008, falling to Texas in the Sweet 16 following victories over Cornell and Marquette.

The Cardinal is 2-1 against the Lobos. The teams last met during the 2001-02 season when Stanford defeated New Mexico, 81-66, in Albuquerque.

Anthony Brown and New Mexico's Kendall Williams played together on the same AAU team during the sixth and seventh grades.

Stanford achieved 20 wins for the 22nd time in school history, and third during Dawkins' six-year tenure. The Cardinal finished 3-2 against top-25 opponents this year.

See the Google Hangout replay here.

— Palo Alto Online Sports/Stanford Athletics


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