OAKLAND -- They don't care about wins in December, just like they don't care about tip-ins after the buzzer. But down on the farm today, there's a lot of happy people nonetheless.
Stanford's 84-83 win over top-ranked Duke on Thursday was one of the sweetest in school history. No, it's not a national championship. But the Cardinal had played the No. 1 team in the country 25 times before with only one win to show for it.
"That was pretty special," Stanford coach Mike Montgomery said. "I don't think it's really hit me yet. To beat a caliber team like that."
Added backup guard Julius Barnes, "This is the best win I've ever been associated with."
It wasn't just the win. It was the way of the win. The third-ranked Cardinal played flat for more than three-quarters of the game, trailing 72-57 with six minutes, 53 seconds left. Then, thanks to some offensive spark by Barnes, some foul trouble in the Blue Devils front line, and some missed free throws by Duke, Stanford mounted a comeback.
Shane Battier picked up his fourth foul with 8:43 to go. Carlos Boozer did the same with 7:26 remaining. Duke (10-1), which normally goes seven-deep, began to sputter. Boozer then fouled out with 4:45 to go, with Duke holding a 73-62 lead.
With four minutes left, the Cardinal (9-0) still trailed by 11. An 11-1 run cut the lead to 78-77 with 1:35 to go. Stanford never got the lead, but after two missed free throws by the Blue Devils' Mike Dunleavy with 14.4 seconds remaining, the Cardinal had the ball with a chance to take its first lead since a 4-2 in the game's opening minutes.
Montgomery called his last timeout with 7.0 seconds left. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski then called his final timeout. Montgomery took that opportunity to change the play.
"The first play was, whoever's open, get the ball," Montgomery said.
Instead, Stanford called for guard Casey Jacobsen to set a backscreen for post Jason Collins. Jacobsen was supposed to come off the screen and pop open for a possible inbounds pass from Ryan Mendez. Jacobsen came off the backscreen a little slow, nearly causing Mendez to fall inbounds. Duke's Jason Williams was tight on Jacobsen, but the Stanford sophomore went to his left and pulled up for a 10-foot jumper off the glass and in.
"When Casey goes left, he's going to pull up for that jump shot," Barnes said. "He makes that jump shot nine out of 10 times in practice, even with three guys on him."
The sellout crowd went nuts. But Duke still had a scare left with 3.6 seconds to go. Williams took the inbounds pass and drove the length of the court and put up a shot. The ball rolled off the rim. Nate James was there for the tip, but it came just after the buzzer. The Stanford faithful stormed the court at the Arena.
Jacobsen noted it was the first time in his Stanford career he'd been asked to take the final shot. He also noted his last performance on the national stage, a poor game against North Carolina in the second round of last year's NCAA Tournament, when he was 2-of-12 from the field in the Cardinal's 60-53 upset loss.
"I took this game personal," he said.
If he did, it worked. Jacobsen was Stanford's only offensive force in the first half, scoring 13 of the Cardinal's 30 points. He finished with a team-high 26.
Battier and Williams shared top scoring honors for the Blue Devils at 26 apiece. The key statistic was rebounding in the second half, when Stanford had a 28-20 advantage, led by Jason Collins' 10. Collins led all players in the game with 15 boards.
Big as the win was, the game was relatively meaningless. There's no bonus points for wins in December. Both teams still need to go 6-0 in the NCAA Tournament in order to attain the goal of a national championship. This was nothing more than a friendly competition between two high-profile schools.
That point was illustrated in the courtside seats where National Security Adviser-designate (and former Stanford provost) Condoleezza Rice was sitting. At one point, a young man in a Stanford T-shirt asked her for her autograph. A minute later, a young man in a Duke baseball cap did the same.