March 15, 2002
St. Louis, MO - Facing top-seeded Kansas in the second round of the Midwest Regional is not nearly the daunting proposition it was a day ago for Stanford.
The Jayhawks (30-3) barely avoided becoming the first No. 1 seed in the history of the tournament to lose in the first round, overcoming a five-point second-half deficit to beat Holy Cross 70-59 Thursday night in a game that was much closer than the final score.
"I came into the tournament thinking Kansas was invincible," Stanford's All-Pac 10 forward Casey Jacobsen said. "But after seeing what Holy Cross did, I still think they're really good. But I don't think they're unbeatable."
Kentucky, the No. 4 seed in the East, plays No. 12 Tulsa in the other game Saturday, matching Wildcats coach Tubby Smith against the school that gave him his first Division-I job in 1991.
"This is a good story line," Smith said. "It's what college basketball is all about, the intertwining of coaches and players and where they've been."
Another chink in Kansas' armor: All-Big 12 guard Kirk Hinrich, the key to the Jayhawks' uptempo game, sprained his left ankle near halftime of the Holy Cross game and his availability is in doubt for Stanford.
"It ticks you off, it makes you say, 'Why me?"' Kansas coach Roy Williams said. "But it doesn't do you any good so you might as well go on. Last night, I gave myself about 30 seconds and then I went on."
There's also the matter of Kansas' lackluster showing in the Big 12 Conference tournament final, a 64-55 loss to No. 3 Oklahoma on Sunday. In that game, the Jayhawks had season lows for points, field-goal percentage and 3-point percentage.
Before that, Kansas won 16 in a row and had the first perfect season in the Big 12.
"Obviously, we'd like to have had better success the last two games," forward Nick Collison said. "You can't dwell on things this time of year. Hopefully, we'll be able to get back to where we were in the not-so-recent past."
Stanford, the No. 8 seed, advanced by ending Western Kentucky's 18-game winning streak with an 84-68 victory Thursday. The Cardinal aren't used to being a middle-of-the-pack seed after being a No. 1 the last two seasons, a No. 2 in 1999 and a No. 3 in 1998, but Jacobsen, who averages 21.9 points, said that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"It's a natural progression that when you're not ranked No. 1 that you're more loose," Jacobsen said. "People aren't going to say if you don't get to the Final Four that the year is a disappointment.
"We don't feel like the world is on our shoulders. We're going to take this sucker one game at a time and Kansas is next on our list."
Hinrich would have been guarding the equally multitalented Jacobsen, a task that likely now falls to freshman Keith Langford. Seven-footer Curtis Borchardt, who had 19 points and 12 rebounds and outplayed 7-1 Chris Marcus in the first round for his 16th double-double, also presents problems for Kansas.
"He's got to be one of the top five big men in the country," Williams said.
Kentucky (21-9) will be hoping to build off an 83-68 victory over No. 13 Valparaiso, a rare impressive triumph for a team in turmoil much of the season, in the second round. The Wildcats lost four of their last nine before the NCAA tournament, falling in the first round of the SEC tournament.
"We know in the past we've played a good game and had a letdown, played a good game and had a letdown," forward Tayshaun Prince said. "We have to be extra ready to avoid that letdown."
Tulsa (27-6) had the only nailbiter of the first four games, beating No. 9 Marquette 71-69 on Greg Harrington's runner with 15.6 seconds to go.
"We have to go out there like they are Rice or any of the small teams in our conference," said Harrington, Tulsa's lone senior starter. "We don't go out there and play hard just because of the name on the jersey. We go out there and play hard because we want to win."
Still, the Smith matchup brings anticipation. He led the Golden Hurricanes to consecutive round of 16 appearances in 1994 and `95.
"Everyone is very familiar with Coach Smith," backup center Jack Ingram said. "He's still a big man around here."
By R.B. FALLSTROM
AP Sports Writer