Maples Pavilion atmosphere coming back to life

Jan. 31, 2013, 12:50 a.m.

Mr. Musberger worked his magic courtside at Maples once again last night. The man who — when Dickie V. wasn’t stepping all over his call — immortalized Nick Robinson and Maples Pavilion forever was there to call another big Stanford victory.

But this time it was different. Yes, Stanford knocked off a top-10 Oregon Ducks team, but it just wasn’t that exciting.

If Brent Musberger was the constant in these two big Stanford victories, his broadcast partners symbolize the difference.

In 2004, as Nick Robinson’s buzzer-beater sailed through the net, Dick Vitale, the most colorful of all color commentators couldn’t stop screaming with excitement. To be fair to Vitale, that didn’t make him any different than the Sixth Man’s students spilling onto the court.

But last night, as Stanford methodically knocked off an Oregon team that looked like it never got off the plane, the much calmer — to be fair, it’s pretty hard to not be “much calmer” when being compared to Dickie V.  — Bill Walton sat next to Mr. Musberger.

Then, it happened. With just under 15 minutes to play in the ball game, Chasson Randle and Aaron Bright hit two three-pointers in two seconds, and Maples went wild.

I’m not even sure how I’m supposed to describe this. Maples Pavilion, during a Stanford Men’s Basketball game, actually got loud.

Now I wasn’t here in 2004. I’m not sure if I even knew Stanford existed as a sixth-grader back in Westfield, N.J., but I can imagine that, for the first time in a while, this Maples Pavilion crowd actually began to resemble its former self.

“GOOOOOOOO. STANFORD,” the crowd roared. Well, maybe roared isn’t the right word, but it’s a start.

Let me be clear, I’m not blaming Stanford’s fans for the lull in excitement. Though there were plenty of empty seats last night, enough of Nerd Nation was there to make it loud.

Stanford isn’t even that good. The Card showed last night that it isn’t a bad basketball team, but no one would question the argument that Stanford is not a great basketball team.

That’s what is so puzzling about this team. The Cardinal has multiple personality disorder, where the magic potion seems to be any trip on an airplane.

I do not understand how Stanford Men’s Basketball can beat No. 10 Oregon so decisively and lay an egg in so many other games this season, including in a 21-point loss to Colorado in Boulder.

Maybe I just don’t know enough about basketball — it’s definitely the major sports that I know the least about. All I know is this team perplexes me.

I don’t think it’s an effort question — especially on the defensive side of the ball. On some nights, though, the offense does not show up. That’s what keeps Johnny Dawkins’s seat so hot and Stanford’s fans away from Maples Pavilion.

For the most part this season, Stanford just has not played exciting basketball. Even the first half last night was pretty lackluster — the season-ticket holders next to me who are some of the biggest Stanford fans I know even left at halftime due to boredom.

My good friend and former Managing Editor of Sports Jack Blanchat asked last week after Stanford’s loss at Colorado if this season was the end of the road for Johnny Dawkins.

Just like last season, when Jack wrote a similar column for The Daily just before Stanford’s revival en route to an NIT Championship, it appears as though Jack has at least initially reverse-jinxed the Cardinal. Stanford has won its two games since Jack’s column by a combined 55 points — I think you can call that a comeback.

However, Stanford hasn’t shown that it can consistently be an exciting basketball team. Even if Stanford can win a few more games and knock off a top-25 team every once in a while, is that good enough to warrant Johnny Dawkins staying around?

Dawkins is an excellent human being, which certainly helps his cause. However, at Stanford, Dawkins needs to do more than that — he has to win basketball games.

Actually, I’d argue that, in the Bay Area, being exciting might be even more important than winning. Stanford Football saw that firsthand over the last two years. With Andrew Luck, Stanford finally started selling out its stadium. But, this past year, even when Stanford won the Pac-12 to host the conference championship game, attendance suffered at least in part because the offense was boring.

So, though Blanchat may have saved Stanford’s record with his reverse-jinx column, I’m not sure that should, or will, save Johnny Dawkins. Obviously Dawkins needs to win more, but winning a few more games without reinvigorating the fan base won’t be enough.

If Dawkins can find a way to get the offense going like it did it last night’s second half consistently — especially on the road — I think Stanford fans can make Maples Pavilion a fun place to see a game once again. Dawkins better hope so, because it might be his only hope.

Sam Fisher has plans to wear a wig, paint his chest and dance like Andrew Zimmermann for the home crowd at Sunday’s game. Weigh in on his sanity at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @SamFisher908.

Sam Fisher is the managing editor of sports for The Stanford Daily's Vol. 244. Sam also does play-by-play for KZSU's coverage of Stanford football, Stanford baseball and Stanford women's basketball. In 2013, Sam co-authored "Rags to Roses: The Rise of Stanford Football," with Joseph Beyda and George Chen.

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