March 11, 2004
By BETH HARRIS
AP Sports Writer
LOS ANGELES (AP) - The Stanford Cardinal returned to their winning ways and got Justin Davis back, too.
Josh Childress scored 17 points and the second-ranked Cardinal led all the way in defeating Washington State 68-47 Thursday in the first round of the Pac-10 tournament.
Stanford had lost its opening game both times since the Pac-10 revived the tournament in 2002.
Before Washington ended Stanford's 26-game winning streak last Saturday, the Cougars put a scare into the Cardinal, who needed seven points in the final 25 seconds for the victory.
"They concerned us because they gave us a great game a week ago," Stanford coach Mike Montgomery said. "We came out and played harder and defended the shooters better."
Saint Joseph's, which replaced Stanford in the top spot, lost for the first time this season Thursday, 87-67 to Xavier in the Atlantic-10 quarterfinals.
"We're not worried about Saint Joseph's at all," guard Matt Lottich said. "They had a nice run, as did we. I'm sure they're going to regroup."
The Cardinal (27-1) advanced to Friday's semifinals against the winner of the California-Oregon game.
As if the Cardinal doesn't have enough scoring threats, Davis played his first game since bruising a bone and tearing a left knee ligament in January. He had seven points and four rebounds in 14 minutes Thursday.
"It felt good out there. I'm probably at 75 percent right now," he said. "I don't think my explosiveness is where it should be. It's just a matter of continuing the strengthening."
Montgomery plans to bring Davis along slowly and increase his minutes as the Cardinal progresses in postseason play.
"Psychologically, it made a huge difference for our team," Montgomery said. "He ran down some balls. He's a difference-maker."
Eighth-seeded Washington State (13-16) finished with six more victories under first-year coach Dick Bennett than last season. The Cougars were in the tournament for the first time since 1990, when all 10 schools qualified.
"When we would threaten occasionally they were always there to close the door," Bennett said. "We appeared to be a little tight and never fully got past that."
Marcus Moore scored 17 points and Jeff Varem added 10 for the Cougars, who lost to Stanford for the 16th straight time. Thomas Kelati, one of the Pac-10's top 3-point shooters, was 1-of-5 from long-range.
"They did a really good job, especially on me," Kelati said. "Every time I touched the ball, I couldn't turn around without a Stanford defender."
Chris Hernandez was Stanford's only other scorer in double figures with 11. The Cardinal controlled the boards 33-22, and Stanford's bench outscored Washington State's reserves 24-10.
"They were much more aggressive and they recovered to the shooter very quickly," Bennett said. "They were a step quicker and just a shade more alert."
A week after nearly becoming the first team to beat the Cardinal, Washington State couldn't muster much scoring against Stanford's hard-nosed defense. Lottich hit a 3-pointer in last week's 63-61 win against the Cougars.
"We had a sour taste in our mouths all week, so we had some great practices and that just carried over to the game," Lottich said. "We don't want to have that feeling the rest of the season. We want to go out on top."
This time, the Cougars struggled from the opening tip. They missed their first nine shots and committed three turnovers in the first 7˝ minutes before Isaiah Simmons made a free throw.
"There was a reason the score was 22-5 and that's because we were playing hard," Montgomery said. "When we don't play hard on defense, our margin of error is diminished."
Stanford held the Cougars to 23-percent shooting in the first half, when it led 31-20 at the break.
"We regained our focus and went back to what made us successful," Childress said. "We really concentrated on defense and being the aggressor."
Washington State made a brief run to start the second half. Moore hit consecutive 3-pointers and the Cougars made four straight free throws to close to 38-30. But they never got within single digits the rest of the game. They made just six field goals in each half.
Childress keyed a 15-5 run by scoring eight points before he picked up his fourth foul with 8˝ minutes remaining in front of a mostly quiet, sparse afternoon crowd at Staples Center.