Saturday, January 10, 2004

TIPOFF: Around the nation


Childress, Stanford a lethal combination

There is something about good friends that makes for good teammates.

Friends help each other on the court. They're unselfish. They look for each other in transition.

So if all the players on a team are friends, that team has a chance to be pretty good.

Welcome to Mike Montgomery's world. The Stanford coach has one of the closest teams in America. And Stanford is No. 4 and unbeaten at 12-0 entering today's Pacific-10 contest at No. 3 Arizona.

"We like each other," Montgomery said. "And when you like each other, it's easier for a guy to accept being a role player."

So far, Stanford has been talented players accepting role positions with an All-America candidate about to be added to the mix. The combination has given Montgomery what could be his best team in 18 years at Stanford.

Stanford has gotten to this point without its best player, Josh Childress, who just started working his way back into the lineup. While he spent the first nine games recouping from a foot injury, the Cardinal played in sync, dismantling teams such as Gonzaga and Kansas. Now, with Childress, a 6-foot-8 junior, almost back to full health, Montgomery has a team with Final Four potential.

"It's still too early to tell," Montgomery said. "We still have to work Josh into the system."

Nick Robinson took Childress' spot when he was out for the first month of the season. With Childress back, Robinson probably will become a valuable sixth man who can move, pass, shoot and defend all over the court. He's the ultimate coach's player who will sacrifice his needs for the team's success. And he's not alone.

Rob Little, the Cardinal's once-hefty center, gave up late-night meals to drop weight off his 275-pound frame before the season. Now he averages more than 10 points and jumps for rebounds instead of standing and waiting for them.

Childress will have to relinquish a bit of stardom to fit back in. After all, the Cardinal seemed to be fine without him. Four players average double figures, led by shooting guard Matt Lottich. Power forward Josh Davis shoots above 55 percent and grabs nearly eight rebounds a game. And 10 players average at least 10 minutes or more a game.

As fluid as Stanford has played during nonconference games, the Pac-10 road has been and will become more challenging today in Arizona. Conference opponents know what you do and how to stop it. That's how Arizona State almost upset the Cardinal Thursday in Tempe.

But Childress came up big, giving Stanford an all-around threat who can make the game-winning play. Childress tipped in an offensive rebound with 9.4 seconds left that gave Stanford the 63-62 lead and eventual win.

"Defenses try to take you out of things," Montgomery said. "Then you have to make plays. I think that's where Josh will help us most."

Badger mania

Wisconsin fans have caught onto to something going on in Madison, Wis. The Badgers are winning, and under coach Bo Ryan, they're going to keep winning.

For the first time since Kohl Center opened in 1998, Wisconsin's home arena sold out before the season began. Then the No. 21 Badgers backed it up by starting 10-2 and establishing themselves as a Big Ten title favorite.

Since Ryan took over in 2002, the Badgers have shared the Big Ten title and won it outright in 2003. Ryan was the Big Ten Coach of the Year in 2002 and 2003. But Wisconsin was picked to finish third in the league this season even with most of last year's team returning, including Big Ten preseason player of the year point guard Devin Harris.

"Well, we hadn't done that well in the conference until a couple years ago," Ryan said. "You have to do that a few times before people start to expect it."

The Badgers host Big Ten preseason favorite Michigan State at noon today.

"People are excited about how the guys are doing," Ryan said. "What's really great about Madison is that people really support sports. But never to this extent has men's basketball been supported like it is now."

Just wait until Wisconsin is playing at full health. Starting forward Alando Tucker(cq) has been bothered by a foot injury, causing him to miss eight games and removing a powerful inside presence from Wisconsin's attack. Harris, meanwhile, has been the catalyst from the start, leading the Big Ten in assists and taking charge of the team on the court.

"He's a player, but he's like a coach on the floor," Ryan said. "You can see he's really thinking about the game as it's in progress."

Player of the week

Jameer Nelson is the best point guard in the nation and might be the best overall player now that he is as much a scoring threat as a playmaker.

Nelson averaged 30.5 points this week in wins against George Washington and Richmond. Nelson removed any concerns about starting games slowly by scoring 18 of 32 points in the first half against Richmond. He also picked off six steals against the Spiders.

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E-mail ddow@enquirer.com




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