Brilliant Knight can't save Stanford's day

March 21, 1997|By John Eisenberg

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Almost as soon as the final buzzer sounded, Brevin Knight was gone.

Without stopping even for handshakes or hugs, he pulled the front of his jersey out of his shorts, stuck the bottom of the jersey in between his teeth and all but sprinted to the Stanford locker room at the San Jose Arena.

Just before he disappeared beneath the stands, he hesitated briefly, for just an instant, and let his eyes savor the sight of the roaring crowd one more time.

There would be no more tomorrows for Knight, Stanford's brilliant senior point guard, after Utah's 82-77 victory in the semifinals of the West Regional last night.

His college career was the stuff of fiction; he was recruited only by Manhattan and Stanford as a scrawny high schooler from East Orange, N.J., but he became a starter as a freshman and wound up as one of the country's best point guards.

A trip to the Elite Eight and maybe even the Final Four would have ended the story in style.

How close Knight came.

Playing with a deficit and foul problems as the smallest player on the floor at 5 feet 10, Knight almost willed the Cardinal to a victory on a night when Utah never trailed in regulation and Keith Van Horn was good for 25 points and 14 rebounds.

With his head shaved and his shorts seemingly drooping to his ankles, Knight almost checkmated Van Horn with 27 points, nine assists and a colossal three-pointer that forced overtime -- a performance that explained why the pro scouts are projecting him as a first-round draft pick despite his lack of size.

"He's just a great collegiate player," said Utah coach Rick Majerus. "We tried all sorts of things on him. He's very tough to cover."

What made his performance so remarkable was that it was going nowhere for so long.

He slept through a terrible first half with two points and two fouls as Utah started fast and pulled away to a 16-point lead.

He still had only eight points when he collected his fourth foul reaching for a loose ball with 13: 09 left and Utah's lead down to four.

Stanford coach Mike Montgomery chose not to take him out despite the four fouls, and Knight rewarded his coach's faith in him.

It was as if the fourth foul and the desperate circumstances awakened Knight.

Incredibly, he scored 21 points in the game's final 18 minutes, despite playing with four fouls.

He began driving to the basket almost every time he touched the ball, taking off from the top of the key with his darting, left-handed moves.

Why didn't he start doing it earlier? Good question.

"I probably should have, considering the way I was shooting," said Knight, who missed 12 of 19 shots. "I would have gotten to the line a lot more."

No doubt. Utah's defenders were doing well to touch him, much less guard him.

"I was just mad at myself for having done so little until then," Knight said. "I just wanted to do something."

Something? Knight did almost everything as Stanford rallied against the favored Utes and the pro-Stanford crowd rattled the walls of the arena.

When Utah pushed the lead back to 11 points, at 44-33, Knight's four free throws led a rally that cut the margin back to four.

When Utah steadied and pushed the lead back up to 10 points, at 57-47, Knight hit two jumpers from the lane and soon the margin was back to three.

"He's just played his last game at Stanford," Montgomery said, "and I don't think our players realize how much he has meant to our team. He carried the pressure that was on us in so many ways."

Last night, he saved his best for the game's most pressurized moments.

Just when Utah appeared to have survived, leading by six points with 45 seconds left, Knight hit two free throws and then -- after a Utah turnover -- spun down the lane and hit a banker while being fouled. The free throw cut the lead to one point.

After two Utah free throws pushed the margin back to three, Knight dribbled into the left corner, feinted toward the baseline, leaned in and let a three-pointer fly with 10 seconds left.

Swish.

"I got a good look," Knight said. "A guy was on me. I probably should have drawn a foul."

The shot tied the score; after having never led at any moment in the game, the Cardinal was headed for overtime.

When Van Horn drew his fifth foul early in overtime for elbowing Knight on a screen, Knight hit a free throw to give the Cardinal the lead.

Utah's dream season seemed on the verge of collapse under the weight of Knight's electric performance.

But Utah didn't earn its 28-3 record and No. 2 seed for being a one-man team. As much as the Utes rely on Van Horn, they have other players, too.

Five of them scored in overtime, as the Utes hit nine of 12 free throws and pulled away.

"As soon as the buzzer sounded, I knew I had played my last game at Stanford," Knight said in a sober interview-room session. "I don't have any feelings about it right now. I'm just sitting here."

Did he take any solace in playing so brilliantly down the stretch?

"We lost," he said glumly. "I don't get any satisfaction from anything that I do personally when we lose, especially a game this big."

With that, he stood up and headed for the locker room, head down, alone in his thoughts.

It wasn't supposed to end this way for him, and it almost didn't.

But it surely did.

Pub Date: 3/21/97

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