Frantz: Johnson’s brilliant 'mistake'

Congratulations are in order today to the Stanford men’s basketball team for its first trip to the Sweet 16 since 2001, and a further tip of the cap is due to Coach Trent Johnson for his brilliantly executed scheme to inspire his players by getting ejected in the first half of Saturday’s second-round overtime win over Marquette.

Johnson wasn’t the Pac 10 Conference’s Coach of the Year by accident, and the strategy he implemented by earning his second technical with just over 3 minutes remaining in the first half had precisely the desired effect — as Robin Lopez admitted following the victory. “We knew we had to win that game from that point on,” Lopez explained. “We weren’t going out like that.”

You see, apparently the Cardinal players went into the contest with a set of circumstances under which they would haveaccepted going out, but having their coach escorted to the locker room before halftime after a heated argument with officials wasn’t one of them.

“I didn’t want Coach Johnson to feel we lost because of his mistake,” Lopez confirmed after his twin brother Brook hit the game-winner with 1 second left in overtime.

Mistake? Boy, is that kid gullible! All part of the plan, big Robin!

OK, OK, removing tongue from its comfortable position burrowed deeply within cheek in this limited recap of the 82-81 thriller that sends the Cardinal to Houston this week, you have to admit: Listening to players talk about how much more motivated they get after a coach or teammate is mistreated (in their minds) by an official can be rather amusing. To hear Lopez and others tell it, the effort they put forth in the second half against the Golden Eagles might not have been there were it not for Johnson’s ouster in the first.

It’s one of the mysteries of sports, really, how a group of elite athletes who are already playing at the peak of their abilities, motivated by nothing less than a national championship playoff game, can somehow find an even higher gear when one of their own is “slighted” by someone.

Call me crazy, but I have to believe that the Brothers Lopez were going to take over in the second half against the smaller Golden Eagles just the way they did, regardless of whether or not Coach Johnson was on the sideline. Put another way, I don’t think Brook Lopez would have dialed it down a notch and scored less than the 28 second-half points he rang up if Johnson had never been tossed. And I really can’t imagine he would have approached the baseline leaner that gave the Cardinal the win any differently had the coach been perched in his familiar position in front of the Stanford bench.

But it sure is fun hearing how much “extra effort” guys give when they feel like their side has been shafted in a game by the zebras.

For his part, the eternally classy Johnson said all the right things after what could have been a disastrous lack of self-control in the first half: “Basically, I was out of line … I had put our team in a bad situation, and it’s unacceptable,” he acknowledged. “The responsibility was on me, and I was out of line.”

Well, that depends on whom you ask, coach. I have every confidence that your kids will be ready on Friday, and that they’ll be giving every ounce of effort they have to give … but … if there really is extra motivation to be found when you get run from a game, maybe you should prepare a little something extra for the officials in Houston this week.

You know, just in case.

Sports personality Bob Frantz is a regular contributor to The Examiner. E-mail him at bfrantz@examiner.com.

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