Sophomore point guard Aaron Bright came off the bench to spark Stanford to an NIT title.
Bright had 15 points and six assists in Thursday's 75-51 rout of Minnesota to earn most outstanding player honors, energizing the Cardinal just as the coaches had hoped when they took him out of the starting lineup in mid-February.
"I give him all the credit, because it takes a player buying into something like that before it works, and he bought into his role," coach Johnny Dawkins said. "When he comes in, he brings us energy. ... I think it's hard for teams to prepare for him because he's not out there right away. When he comes in, it gives us a big lift, and it gives our kids confidence in what they can do."
The victory brought Stanford's season full circle. Back in November, the Cardinal let a late lead slip away in the final of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Madison Square Garden against a Syracuse team that would earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
"We were here before in the preseason and we fell short," Dawkins said. "And so we talked about this experience as how much have we grown: You know, to show we have grown, we'd have to win this tournament. And our kids, I think they rallied around that."
Fresh off its 74-64 win over Massachusetts in the semifinals on Tuesday, the Cardinal made the most of its Wednesday in New York.
Stanford players and coaches began their day with an early-morning tour of Bank of America's corporate headquarters, led by former Cardinal standout Peter Sauer. In addition to leading the tour, Sauer introduced the Cardinal travel party to several other Stanford alums working in the organization.
The Cardinal held its afternoon practice at the New York Athletic Club. It was Stanford's second practice this year at the prestigious facility, as the team also worked out there back in November during the Preseason NIT.
With a team meeting slated for 9:30 p.m., players and coaches were free to grab dinner or explore Times Square on a busy evening.
Two days and more than 11,000 YouTube views later (UPDATE: make that over 410,000 views as of Friday, March 30), practically every major national sports media outlet was buzzing over Tuesday's fiery pregame speech by Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis. Prior to each game, Cardinal players watch a montage of Lewis highlights during a portion of their pregame preparation. So, you could imagine the shock this time around when the 13-time Pro Bowler and 2000 Super Bowl MVP walked into the room.
Lewis' locker room visit was planned as a surprise, with assistant coach and Washington, D.C., native Charles Payne taking the lead on reaching out to the famous linebacker. Lewis, who was already scheduled to be in New York early in the week, then watched Tuesday's game from the first row behind Stanford's team bench.
Stanford moved one step closer to bringing home a championship Tuesday night, defeating Massachusetts 74-64 in the semifinals of the Postseason NIT at Madison Square Garden.
What seemed like a long day of pregame build-up finally led into Tuesday's much-anticipated clash between the Cardinal and the Minutemen.
Stanford looked sharp from the outset, jumping out to a 12-point lead midway through the first half.
With former Stanford standout Landry Fields of the New York Knicks cheering the Cardinal on, there was much to be excited about. Anthony Brown led the way with a season-high 18 points while Josh Owens notched a double-double of 15 points and 12 rebounds.
With the New York Jets holding Tim Tebow's introductory press conference at the same exact time, media attendance was on the lighter side but still robust enough to create a frenzied environment on the eighth floor of the Marriott Marquis.
After breakfast and a meeting, the team headed over to NYU for its practice session. Former Cardinal standout Peter Sauer stopped by to watch practice and spoke briefly to the team.
Later that evening, players and coaches attended a formal banquet at The Boathouse on East 72nd and Central Park Drive. All four teams in attendance were recognized for their accomplishments.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
EPISODE 1: CARDINAL ARRIVES IN NYC
For the second time this year, Stanford touched down in New York City with one goal in mind: return to campus with a championship.
The Cardinal arrived in New York shortly after midnight on Monday, settling in at its Times Square hotel following an afternoon flight on Sunday.
Stanford's mission for this weekend in the final four of the Postseason NIT is the same as it was back in November when the Cardinal participated in the Preseason NIT. Earlier this year, Stanford defeated Oklahoma State 82-67 before nearly upsetting then- No. 5/5 Syracuse in a 69-63 loss. Despite the loss to Syracuse in the final, Stanford was able to build confidence and generate momentum that would ultimately result in a 12-2 record over the first two months.