Ky., Stanford make late entries Cardinal rally, : 59 of horror foil R. Island

Ncaa Tournament

March 23, 1998|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

ST. LOUIS -- His Rhode Island teammates were gone. So were the coaches. But Cuttino Mobley remained. Bent over at the waist, his eyes staring dejectedly at the floor, Mobley got a good feel for the Stanford celebration around him. It was a celebration that, minutes before, he thought he'd be a participant in.

But it was Stanford whopartied yesterday, taking advantage of an epic Rhode Island collapse that was as sudden as it was unexpected. It resulted in a 79-77 win that gave the Cardinal the Midwest Regional title and a trip to San Antonio for next week's Final Four.

Later Mobley was asked to describe the sequence of events that unfolded over the final 59 seconds: the blown six-point lead, the two crucial turnovers, the incredible -- and controversial -- plays made by Stanford guard Arthur Lee and Rhode Island getting outscored 14-6.

After thinking about that question for a second, Mobley leaned forward with a pained, dazed look and replied: "I can't describe it at all. I'm sorry. I can't describe the whole thing."

Mobley was able to describe what turned out to be the biggest -- and most controversial -- play of the game. It was Mobley, facing a full-court press with a one-point lead, who had the ball knocked out of his hands by Lee right under the Stanford basket. That ball landed right in the hands of Stanford forward Mark Madsen, who was fouled while scoring on a power dunk. That three-point play gave Stanford a 76-74 lead -- the team's first lead since the 16: 35 mark.

Mobley's version of what happened: "They just called a push foul on Luther Clay, which you shouldn't call. And then Arthur Lee comes, I'm dribbling and he hits my elbow."

Lee's version: "I just tipped the ball out of his hand. If it [a foul] happened, I would say it. What are they going to do, take the Final Four away from us?"

No, Arthur, regardless of whose version is accurate, your team's place in the Final Four is secure. There was no one more surprised over the sequence than Madsen -- who was running over to double- team Mobley at the time.

"When the ball popped loose, the initial reaction was 'I can't believe this,' " Madsen said. "It was an amazing feeling of surprise, to see that ball bounce toward me. It was like a perfect bounce pass."

Even after Madsen's dunk, waist swivel dance ("Did I do that? I know I did something," he said) and free throw, Rhode Island still had its chances. But Antonio Reynolds-Dean threw the ball out of bounds on the next possession -- misreading guard Tyson Wheeler, who had made a backdoor cut.

Wheeler later had a chance to tie the game, getting fouled on a three-point attempt with 13 seconds left and Rhode Island trailing 77-74.

To that point, Wheeler (24points, nine of 14 from the field), was magnificent and was a perfect 2-for-2 from the line. However, the pressure of tying the game with the Final Four at stake was clear as Wheeler's first two attempts hit off the front rim. He intentionally missed the third shot, but Rhode Island failed to get the rebound -- setting off a Stanford celebration.

"I felt like we experienced a 180-degree change of emotion," said Madsen, who finished the game with 15 points and five rebounds. "To be very honest, it looked like we were going to lose the game. They were in control."

That was, indeed, the case. Wheeler was breaking down defenders off the dribble almost at will. Mobley (20 points) was showing the ability to hit big shots. And Clay and Reynolds-Dean were holding their own against Stanford's big front line.

But the unraveling came shortly after Wheeler scored on a backdoor layup with 6: 54 left, giving Rhode Island a 64-55 lead. After that basket, the Rams went into a spread offense, with reserve guard Preston Murphy -- not Wheeler -- controlling the point in the minutes that followed. Its offense disrupted, Rhode Island would hit just two field goals the rest of the game (one, a three-pointer by Mobley, came at the buzzer).

"We were versatile," Harrick said of the move. "[Murphy] took [Stanford defender Ryan Mendez] real well and hit a shot off of him."

And despite that, Rhode Island would have still come away victorious if not for an incredible finish by Lee, who scored 13 of Stanford's final 19 points -- including 11 in the final 1: 23. With Stanford down six, a Lee three-pointer with 1: 23 closed the gap to 68-65. Later down six, Lee hit another three-pointer -- with Wheeler all over him -- with 52 seconds left that cut the deficit to 71-68.

Down four with 32 seconds left, Lee converted a three-point play to pull Stanford to within one. And seconds later, he was tipping the ball away from Mobley, leading to the Madsen dunk.

"We needed something to happen," Lee said. "I'm definitely not a pure shooter, but I knew this was a big opportunity for us. I just decided the last minute we had to get it done."

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