Palo Alto Weekly

Sports - March 22, 2013

Stanford keeps NIT title hopes alive

by Rick Eymer

Stanford against Alabama. It was the perfect matchup the Cardinal wanted — during football season.

That likely would have meant Stanford was playing for a national championship. This Stanford-Alabama matchup is decidedly different.

Only eventual title at stake will be in basketball's Postseason National Invitation Tournament for either team.

It will be either the Cardinal or the No. 1-seeded Crimson Tide rolling in that direction following Saturday's second-round matchup in Alabama at 9 a.m. (ESPN).

"As far as looking forward to Alabama, once again they're a good team," said Stanford's Dwight Powell. "Every year is a different year. We're in this tournament and we're going to try to win it."

Stanford (19-14) did just that last season by rolling to the NIT title. This season, the Cardinal isn't on that kind of roll just yet after opening postseason play with a 58-57 win over visiting Stephen F. Austin.

"We want to win this thing," said Stanford head coach Johnny Dawkins. "We're still playing. There are a lot of teams that aren't playing anymore. We are one of the teams that are still competing for a championship, and I'm excited about that. Our kids are excited about that. Are we disappointed we didn't make the (NCAA) field of 64? Absolutely. But, that doesn't mean we can't have a terrific season."

Senior Gabriel Harris sank one of two free throws to put Stanford ahead, 58-52, with 3:56 remaining to play. The Cardinal needed to make two critical stops to hang on at the end after missing its final six shots.

The Lumberjacks (27-5) drew within 58-57 with 2:18 left. Dwight Powell, who scored 12 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, blocked a shot with 41 seconds remaining. Josh Huestis contested the final shot with a second remaining.

"Bottom line that's a game we lost earlier in the season," Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said. "We had the exact same situation in the USC game and we lost by a basket."

The Cardinal was knocked out of the Pac-12 Conference tournament by Arizona State, 89-88, in overtime and lost at home to Colorado, 65-63, three weeks ago. Stanford has lost three other games by three points or less this season — likely the difference between playing in the NIT and not the NCAA tournament.

"We had to dig in and make a stop at the end," Dawkins said. "We hustled back on defense and forced a tough shot."

Stanford made just enough plays to edge the nation's top defensive team. The Lumberjacks had held their previous 64 opponents to an average of 51 per game.

Stanford improved to 4-1 against teams from the Southland Conference and have won three of its four overall.

Aaron Bright added 11 points for the Cardinal.

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