In case you hadn't heard, Butler takes on UConn tonight in the men's basketball national championship game. Butler has a chance to finish the job after losing to Duke in last year's final, while Jim Calhoun has the rare opportunity to gain a title on Geno Auriemma. UConn is favored, but the Bulldogs figure to give them one heck of a game. Butler is playing as well as it has played all season--certainly better than it was when it obliterated Stanford--and Brad Stevens' squad won't be intimidated by the big stage.
With last year's star, Gordon Hayward, playing in the NBA, few predicted the No. 8 seed Bulldogs would return to the national championship game, let alone survive the tournament's first weekend. For the second consecutive season, Butler upset the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in its Region en route to the Final Four. In 2010, it was Syracuse and Kansas State. This season it was Pittsburgh and Florida. There's no doubt that fans of the Panthers and Gators will watch tonight's game and think it should be their team battling the Huskies for that One Shining Moment. Stanford fans know your pain.
While the Stanford women's basketball team has suffered its heartbreak in the Final Four in each of the last four years, the Stanford men's basketball team has more often been victimized by the Butlers of the college basketball world in the early rounds. Here's a look back at four of the most disappointing NCAA tournament losses in Stanford men's basketball history. (I don't have the stomach to compile a similar list for the women just yet.) Oh, and go Bulldogs!
1989: (14) Siena 80, (3) Stanford 78
Stanford went 15-3 in Pac-10 play and earned a No. 3 seed in the East Regional, marking the Cardinal's first NCAA tournament appearance since it won the national championship in 1942. Stanford drew Siena in the first round and an unenviable trip to Greensboro, N.C., where the Todd Lichti-led Cardinal was slated to play an early game. Siena, which finished the season 24-4, had defeated Boston University to win the ECAC title and was playing with a chip on its shoulder. "If a Virginia can be a fifth seed…they’ll do anything they can to keep the top programs in the money, but the Cleveland States, the Rhode Islands and the Richmonds make college basketball more exciting than college football at bowl time," Saints head coach Mike Deane said. "Stanford has Todd Lichti and they’re having a great year, but they have to come all the way across the country to play and they know nothing about us. It’s going to be a fun and pressure-free situation for us."
Deane's analysis was spot-on. The Saints built a 61-45 lead in the second half with a 24-4 run before Stanford came roaring back to make things interesting. In the end, Siena sophomore Marc Brown was the difference. Brown scored 32 points, including a pair of free throws with 3 seconds left, to help the Saints become the fifth No. 14 seed to beat a No. 3 seed in tournament history. "Siena played with a tremendous amount of emotion, a tremendous amount of poise," Stanford head coach Mike Montgomery said. "We made some runs, but we could never sustain a run." Adam Keefe had 20 points for Stanford in defeat.
1999: (10) Gonzaga 82, (2) Stanford 74
Stanford was upset by Gonzaga before it was cool to be upset by Gonzaga. Playing in front of a predominantly pro-Zags crowd in Seattle, Matt Santangelo scored 22 points to lead Dan Monson's squad to the second round win. "What a great feeling," Santangelo said afterward. "I think we wanted it more than they did." Stanford’s only lead of the game was 1-0. "They hit tough shots for the whole game," Stanford guard Arthur Lee said. "We couldn’t find a weakness in their lineup." Richie Frahm and Quentin Hall added 15 and 14 points, respectively, for Gonzaga, which ourebounded the Cardinal 47-33 and drained 11 3-pointers. Kris Weems had 18 points and Mark Madsen had 15 points and 14 rebounds in defeat. Gonzaga lost in the Elite Eight to UConn.
2000: (8) North Carolina 60, (1) Stanford 53
The Cardinal earned the top seed in the South Region after finishing the regular season 27-3 and sharing the Pac-10 title with Arizona. Stanford led 47-43 with 8:23 after Jarron and Jason Collins combined for six straight points, but freshman Joe Forte led the Tar Heels back. Forte scored a team-high 17 points, including consecutive 3-pointers to give UNC a 53-47 lead, and outplayed Cardinal freshman Casey Jacobsen. The Stanford sharpshooter entered the game as the Cardinal's leading scorer, but was held to five points on 2-for-12 shooting. UNC shot 44 percent against the nation's best field goal percentage defense.
"It's a very numbing feeling that our season is over after as good a regular season as we had," Stanford head coach Mike Montgomery said. "You have to be aware that when you play teams of this quality, you run the risk of getting beat. My hat is off to Bill (Guthridge) and North Carolina and I wish them the best." North Carolina would go on to lose to Florida in the national semifinals.
2004: (8) Alabama 70, (1) Stanford 67
Stanford started the regular season 26-0 before being upset by Washington, but rebounded to defeat the Huskies in the Pac-10 tournament championship game and earn a No. 1 seed in the Phoenix Region. After cruising past Texas-San Antonio in the first round, Stanford met Alabama. TheCardinal appeared to be Sweet 16-bound with a 53-40 lead and 7:40 to play before Alabama went on a 16-0 run. The Crimson Tide made 10-of-14 free throws in the final minute to stave off Stanford's desperate comeback bid. Matt Lottich hit a 3-pointer with 7 seconds remaining to pull the Cardinal to within three and Earnest Shelton missed two free throws at the other end, but Dan Grunfeld’s 3-pointer at the buzzer was off the mark.
"We're extremely disappointed," head coach Mike Montgomery said. "It's hard to figure out what to say. We just never could seem to get on track." Junior point guard Chris Hernandez echoed the thoughts of many Stanford fans when he said, "I'm just sick of getting to this point and saying, 'We're going to do it next year.' It's to the point where you have to put it out on the floor and get it done." Alabama advanced to the Elite Eight, where it lost to UConn. As for the next year, Stanford squeaked into the tournament and was bounced by Mississippi State in the first round.