The first game of the day at the Honda Center was a South Regional contest: #3 Stanford Cardinal versus #6 Marquette Golden Eagles. As both teams walked onto the court, it was even obvious to those of us up in the Terrace section that Stanford was the bigger team, especially their seven-foot twin towers, Brooke and Robin Lopez.
The auditorium was half full at tip-off due to a number of factors, including most ticket-holders being more interested in latter-game participant UCLA, the usual aloofness of Southern California sports fans, and people putting off for as long as possible having to endure the ungodly vision that is the Stanford mascot, a tree that thinks it’s a pirate. Both teams had one main section of fans while other supporters were sprinkled throughout the sea of Bruin blue that slowly filled the seats over the first half.
Stanford scored the game’s first seven points, effortless baskets from R. Lopez and a 3-pointer by Mitch Johnson, causing Marquette coach Tom Crean to call an early timeout at 18:28. During the break, the crowd roared at the announcement of Duke’s loss earlier in the day. Because Stanford’s 3-2 zone was giving them trouble, Marquette relied on outside shots that weren’t falling. Marquette’s guard play got them back into the game and their defense contributed to R. Lopez going cold in the final 10 minutes of the first half. With B. Lopez on the bench due to early foul trouble, Marquette took the lead.
Upset by a foul call at 3:38, Stanford coach Trent Johnson was hit with a technical during a timeout. He approached the referees before an assistant coach could stop him and was hit with a second, resulting in his ejection. He scowled at the referees during his slow exit off the floor. Wesley Matthews hit all four free throws, and Marquette took control of the remainder of the half, which ended at 36-30.
During halftime, the NCAA honored the USC women’s soccer team as the 2007 National Champions. Someone in the main office must have thought this was a good idea since “SC” stands for “Southern California” and Anaheim is in Southern California. However what that someone apparently didn’t know is that USC is the hated, crosstown rival of UCLA, so the young women were booed unmercifully off the floor. Hopefully, that someone will be fired on Monday for suggesting one of the dumbest halftime events in this sports reporter’s memory or for falling victim to a practical joke.
The Lopez brothers began to take over the beginning of the second half. The Marquette guards were pulling up rather than driving all the way to the hole and on defense Marquette began to rack up a lot of fouls. At 13:41, Stanford tied the game 49-49 on Anthony Goods’ 3-pointer.
The twins had their own foul trouble, three each, and came out at 10:00. The Stanford players were befuddled. The game slowed down and it appeared like no one wanted to take a shot. Marquette went on a 9-2 run and took back the lead. The twins returned at 7:00, but their foul count caused them to be less aggressive and Marquette attacked the basket.
As time wound down with Marquette leading 69-68, their center Ousmane Barro fouled out at 1:44. Tied at 71-71, Jerel McNeal, Marquette’s high scorer with 30 points, missed a shot with five seconds left. His teammate Lazar Hayward recovered but had his shot blocked by B. Lopez, sending the game into overtime, which didn’t bode well for Marquette. Although they all worked hard throughout the game, they were going to have their hands full with the twins as two other players had four fouls.