Matt Lottich could have hogged the stage. The senior shooting guard's 34 points, including six three-pointers, against then No. 13-ranked Gonzaga last Saturday had been a career high, a Pete Newell Challenge record and the main reason that Stanford had been able to hold off a late surge and beat the Bulldogs 87-80 in a showdown at The Arena in Oakland between the two best teams on the West Coast At the start of the postgame press conference, Cardinal coach Mike Montgomery was certainly willing to cede the floor: "Lotty, you got any opening remarks?" asked Montgomery.
But Lottich wouldn't play the lead. "It was a great team effort," said the 6'4", 205-pounder, Stanford's leading scorer at week's end with a 15.3-point average. "I made the shots, but my teammates got me the shots." Lottich, who had also handed out seven assists, added, "Look at [junior forward] Nick Robinson. He didn't score tonight, but he had eight assists, six rebounds and only one turnover. He might have been the most valuable player on our team tonight."
So much for a star system. Missing its best player, small forward Josh Childress, who has been nursing an injured left foot, the No. 6 Cardinal had put together a 7-0 record at week's end by passing the ball and the credit and, when necessary, playing smashmouth ball inside the paint Against the Zags, Stanford had 23 assists (against 11 turnovers). Meanwhile, the frontcourt—6'6" Robinson, 6'9" Justin Davis and 6'10" Rob Little—held muscular Gonzaga forwards Ronny Turiaf and Cory Violette to a combined 18 points.
"They are so solid," said Gonzaga coach Mark Few. "They don't beat themselves. They took good shots, and they made us take tough shots. It's pretty simple basketball."
On Saturday the Stanford style certainly worked for Lottich: He went 12 for 17 from the floor. Making hard cuts and playing with red-faced intensity, he often got open coming off screens, though he also knocked down shots with a defender's hand in his face. Lottich says his stroke has improved significantly since he left New Trier High in Winnetka, Ill., where he not only starred in basketball but also was a quarterback and hit .480 as a senior first baseman. In Palo Alto he's happy to be a one-sport athlete. "Just being able to focus and play basketball all the time makes a huge difference," he says.
The versatile Childress is also likely to be a difference maker when he returns on Jan. 2 against Washington State. How much better might the Cardinal be with him? When asked, Lottich again refused to make a boastful statement. "It's early," he said. "Right now we're playing well, but it's how you play in March. We've got a chance to be pretty good."