March 23, 2012
STANFORD, Calif.- Stanford basketball fans will always remember March 1991. For two weeks, a seemingly ordinary Stanford basketball team suddenly became quite extraordinary -- with a couple of well-scissored Madison Square Garden nets and a national championship trophy to prove it.
The 1990-91 Cardinal squad was looking to build on a streak of success begun three years earlier. In 1987-88, Stanford won 21 games and was invited to the National Invitation Tournament (NIT). The next year, 1988-89, the Cardinal won 15 Pac-10 games and 26 games overall, earning a No. 3 seed in the 1989 NCAA Tournament. One year later came another NIT invite.
Would the 1990-91 team keep the Stanford postseason streak alive? All five starters returned for the 1990-91 campaign, and four of the five were now seniors: point guard John Patrick, shooting guard Kenny Ammann, small forward Deshon Wingate and power forward Andrew Vlahov. The returning center, too, was an upperclassman and also happened to be Stanford's most talented player: 6-9 junior and first team All Pac 10 honoree Adam Keefe.
Stanford's overall regular season record of 15-13, which included an 8-10 Pac-10 conference mark, was not good enough to secure a second NCAA Tournament bid in three seasons, but it was good enough to earn an NIT invite.
Here is a summary of the remarkable Stanford NIT title run in 1991.
First Round, March 13, 1991: Maples Pavilion, Stanford, CA
Stanford 93 - Houston 86
The Cardinal got a big momentum boost when senior starting power forward Andrew Vlahov, who had missed several games at the end of the regular season due to an ankle injury, returned to action for the opening round game against the Cougars. At 6-7 and 220 lbs, Vlahov brought an undeniable toughness to the Stanford lineup, and that toughness helped successfully neutralize 7'1" Houston center Alvaro Teheran as the Cardinal prevailed 93-86. Senior starting off guard Kenny Ammann scored a career-high 29 points, including five three-pointers. Junior starting center Adam Keefe -- a beneficiary of Vlahov's return on both the defensive and offensive ends of the court - added 22 points.
Second Round, March 18, 1991: Wisconsin Field House, Madison, WI
Stanford 80 - Wisconsin 72
Stanford journeyed to the Midwest for round two and a matchup with Wisconsin. The Cardinal took hold of the game at the start, making eight of its first nine shots and exploding to a 26-9 first half lead against the Badgers. Wisconsin closed the deficit to 39-30 at the half, but Stanford opened the second half with an 8-0 run, with senior small forward Deshon Wingate scoring six of those points. The Cardinal was never seriously threatened thereafter, winning 78-72. Keefe's career-high 33 points led the way for Stanford, with Ammann contributing 14 points and Wingate 13 points. Senior starting point guard John Patrick chipped in with eight assists.
Quarterfinal Round, March 21, 1991: SIU Arena, Carbondale, IL
Stanford 78 - Southern Illinois 68
As at Wisconsin, Stanford started strong, building first half leads of 18-10 and 31-20 as the Cardinal hit 13 of its first 19 shot attempts. Southern Illinois cut the Cardinal lead to five at the half, but Stanford answered with second half runs of 7-0 and 23-11 to build a double-digit advantage midway through the second half. With reserve guard Marcus Lollie hitting several pressure free throws down the stretch and Stanford getting key offensive rebounds and putbacks, Stanford was able to maintain the lead and won 78-68. Keefe's 24, Wingate's 16 and Vlahov's 14 spearheaded the victory that sent Stanford to the NIT final four in New York City.
Semifinal Game, March 25, 1991: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Stanford 73 - Massachusetts 71
Yet again Stanford jumped out to a hot start, roaring to a 24-8 lead against the John Calipari-coached Minutemen. UMass clawed back to trail at halftime by only four. Stanford countered with a strong second half start, with Keefe scoring eight of Stanford's first 11 points, but with five minutes remaining the game was tied. But then Patrick hit a three pointer and Vlahov started hitting free throws -- lots of them. With five seconds left, Vlahov hit two free throws -- the second of which was his 12th made free throw in 12 free throw attempts on the night -- and Stanford had itself a 73-71 semifinal game victory. Keefe had 24 points, and Vlahov had 20 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists.
Championship Game, March 27, 1991: Madison Square Garden, New York, NY
Stanford 78 - Oklahoma 72
Late in the first half of the title game, with the scored tied at 26, a key sequence occurred: Vlahov was fouled on a controversial play, after which Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs drew a double-technical, game-ejection whistle. Vlahov hit his two free throws, then Patrick hit all four of the technical foul free throws, then --with Stanford awarded possession of the ball--Ammann hit a three to suddenly give Stanford a 35-26 lead. The Sooners scored the next 13 points, including the first two of the second half, to take a four point lead. But Stanford stormed back to tie the game at 60 late in the second half, and then put together a 7-0 run in the final minutes to secure the championship trophy, 78-72.
In the championship game victory, all five Stanford starters--Keefe (12 points) and the four seniors Ammann (22 points), Patrick (13 points), Wingate (13 points, 13 rebounds) and Vlahov (14 points, 11 rebounds)--tallied double figures. With the Oklahoma defense clogging the paint to try to defend Keefe, Patrick and Ammann combined for seven three point baskets. Said Ammann after the game: "Oklahoma did a good job of keeping us from throwing it inside to Adam, but that allowed us to shoot from outside -- John and I love zones".
Keefe - who would conclude his magnificent Stanford career a year later as the No. 2 career scorer (2,319 points) in Cardinal history -- scored 115 points in the five games and was named Most Valuable Player of the 54th National Invitation Tournament at a postgame ceremony on the Madison Square Garden floor. But Keefe's postgame comments in the Stanford locker room focused more on the team rather than on his individual achievement.
"We won this game and this tournament because we came together as a unit," said Keefe. "People have said this wasn't much of a team and that it has just one player, but the way the scoring was spread around proved that's not true."
Five games, 15 days, four different arenas, four different states -- with final exams taken right in the middle, by the way.
Five wins, the most by any Stanford men's basketball team in a national postseason tournament before or since.
And, of course, one national championship -- adding a 1991 NIT championship banner to the 1942 NCAA championship banner hanging in Stanford's Maples Pavilion rafters.
Editor's Note: One of the five Stanford starters on the 1991 NIT champions Stanford team has continued to win championships -- Ken Ammann just completed his 11th year as head basketball of Concordia University (Irvine, CA), and in March 2012 won his second NAIA championship.
- by John Platz
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John Platz, a member of the Stanford men's basketball program from 1982-84, is in his second season as the team's play-by-play announcer following 21 years as the team's color analyst. Platz was behind the microphone during Stanford's 1991 NIT championship run. A true historian of Stanford athletics, Platz also serves as the sideline reporter for football broadcasts.