Stanford vs. Arizona at Maples: The 1989 Classic

Jan. 1, 2009

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    In the second of three vignettes for, veteran Cardinal broadcaster John Platz takes a look back at one of several memorable moments in the Stanford-Arizona rivalry.

    Twenty years ago this month, Stanford faced Arizona in the Cardinal's 1989 Pac-10 conference home opener. The game was one of the most memorable games ever played at Maples Pavilion.

    The Stanford - Arizona basketball rivalry had really begun a season earlier, in February 1988. On that evening, the veteran Arizona starting five of Sean Elliott, Anthony Cook, Tom Tolbert, Craig MacMillan and Steve Kerr, along with sixth man Kenny Lofton, entered Maples Pavilion as the top-ranked team in the country, with a record of 20-1.

    But Stanford that night featured an equally-experienced lineup of Todd Lichti, Howard Wright, Greg Butler, Bryan McSweeney and Terry Taylor. In what was to become the first of several fabulous Stanford-Arizona games at Maples over the ensuing 20 years, the Cardinal upset the No. 1 Wildcats 82-74. The student fan section rushed the court as the final seconds ticked away.

    So the scene was set for the big rematch: Thursday, Jan. 5, 1989. Arizona was the Pac-10's preseason pick to win the conference, fresh off an appearance in the 1988 NCAA Final Four. Arizona had a 14-game Pac-10 winning streak going, and the Wildcats entered Maples that 1989 evening as the nation's eighth-ranked team.

    In 1988-89, Stanford was coming off its first 20-win season in 46 seasons and, likewise, its first postseason appearance in 46 years. Stanford brought a deceiving 8-3 record into the 1989 Arizona game, with the only Cardinal losses having been to powerhouses Indiana, North Carolina and UCLA.

    The key talent for both teams returned. Arizona coach Lute Olson and Stanford coach Mike Montgomery were hitting their strides as program-defining coaches in the Pac-10. The game was televised nationally on ESPN.

    The game started badly for Stanford. The Cats scored quickly and then scored again and again in the opening few minutes. Sean Elliott, the senior All-American forward for Arizona, scored eight early points as the Wildcats exploded to a 21-4 lead six minutes into the game. With Stanford down by so many points, Mike Montgomery--not one disposed to using timeouts early in a game--was forced to take a timeout to try to settle his players down.

    The fast start was standard 'Stanford' operating procedure for Arizona under Lute Olson, usually displayed in games against Stanford in Tucson. The strategy: jump on the Cardinal early and make the first half deficit so great that Stanford could not come back. It had happened in the 1988 Pac-10 Tournament semifinal in Tucson just 10 months earlier in March 1988, when UA burst out to a 16-2 lead in that game and the Cardinal never recovered, losing 97-83.

    But this 1989 Stanford - Arizona game was not to be one of those kill-Stanford-early games. After the Montgomery timeout, Stanford slowly began to chip away at the early 17-point Arizona advantage. By halftime, Stanford was down by only single digits.

    The second half featured one of the great individual duels in both Maples Pavilion and Pac-10 Conference history. Arizona senior Sean Elliott and Stanford senior Todd Lichti traded basket after basket on slashing drives and finishes, powerful pull-up jumpers and arcing three-point swishes.

    Each player's game scoring total eclipsed the 20 point mark early in the second half. Then, later, the 30 point mark. After trailing the entire game, Stanford finally took the lead midway through the second half, on a basket by Eric Reveno. Stanford built the lead to nine points later in the second half, 71-62, then had to withstand a furious Arizona rally in the final five minutes as the Wildcats cut the lead to eight...six...four...and then just two points in the final minute.

    With four seconds remaining in the game and Stanford ahead by just two points, Arizona guard Harvey Mason was fouled in the lane while shooting, giving him the opportunity to tie the game if he could make two free throws.

    Mason missed the first free throw, generating a huge roar out of the sellout Maples Pavilion crowd. Mason then tried to miss the second free throw, but he botched the effort, throwing the ball off of top of the backboard and out of bounds.

    On the resulting Stanford inbound, rather than go for the steal, Mason intentionally fouled Stanford's Bryan McSweeney, who made three of four ensuing free throws which sealed the win for the Cardinal, 83-78. Emotionally and physically spent, Elliott yelled angrily at Mason, whose intentional foul had killed what little chance Arizona had to win.

    As the final buzzer sounded, the Stanford students cascaded onto the floor, as they had one year earlier when Stanford had knocked off then-No. 1 ranked Arizona. For the fifth consecutive season, the Cardinal had beaten Arizona at Maples.

    The story of the game was not only the exciting finish by two top 10-caliber teams, but the great duel between the great Pac-10 and All America seniors, Todd Lichti and Sean Elliott. Lichti finished with 35 points, scoring an amazing 27 in the second half. Lichti also made all 15 of his free throw attempts in the pressure-packed contest. Elliot finished with 34 points and made all four of his three-point field goal attempts.

    Of Lichti, Arizona coach Lute Olson said, 'Lichti is as tough to handle as anyone I've seen.' In its college basketball section the following week, Sport Illustrated hailed Lichti as the 'toast of the [west] coast.'

    And, just as Sean Elliott never lost a game in Tucson to Stanford, Todd Lichti and his fellow senior Cardinal teammates--Eric Reveno, Bryan McSweeney, Scott Meinert, Terry Taylor, Howard Wright--walked out of Maples Pavilion that January 1989 evening knowing that their personal record in games against Arizona in Palo Alto would remain undefeated forever.

    No Stanford four-year player, other than those six, can make that statement.

    - John Platz

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