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Tuesday, December 16, 2003
Cardinal succeeding without 2 key players

Associated Press

STANFORD, Calif. -- Stanford (No. 11 ESPN/USA Today, No. 9 AP) is unbeaten and already has a win over a No. 1 team. The Cardinal men have defeated opponents by an average of 11 points per game, including a 27-point rout of Florida International in their most recent game.

And they're doing it without two key players. Josh Childress, the team's top returning scorer from last season, is sidelined with a foot injury, while point guard and current leading scorer, Chris Hernandez, has missed the last two games with back spasms.

But that's not enough for this team of perfectionists -- who, like coach Mike Montgomery, always seem to focus on their shortcomings rather than their accomplishments.

After the Cardinal (6-0) defeated Florida International 77-50 on Monday night, Stanford players were upset they had 12 turnovers and only 29 rebounds. They know they'll have to be a lot better Saturday when they play No. 13 Gonzaga in the Pete Newell Challenge.

"If I were a fan, I'd be a little displeased," center Rob Little said. "It's hard to focus when you have a ranked team this weekend and a school you've never heard of before that."

The Cardinal, who upset then-No. 1 Kansas Jayhawks earlier this month, jumped from No. 21 in the poll to ninth in just two weeks. Stanford was one of seven teams to receive first-place votes in this week's poll, and the Cardinal received two of them.

"We're not anything different from last year," senior forward Justin Davis said. "The year we had playing together prepared us for this year. It's a good thing when a team can play together without the top scorer in there."

Alone in the tiny weight room at Maples Pavilion, Childress rides the stationary bike while his teammates warm up for games only a few feet away. Aside from some shooting, that's about all he can do right now.

Stanford's injured star has been forced to watch his team's early-season success from the bench as he nurses a stress reaction in his left foot.

"You look around and we have 15 guys who are pretty good," Childress said. "That's from hard work over the summer. Everybody was here at some point. That does worlds for team chemistry."

Childress, who averaged 14.1 points and 8.1 rebounds last season, is expected to return for the start of the Pac-10 season early next month. Hernandez has been battling back problems since he arrived at Stanford last year, but should play Saturday against Gonzaga. He is averaging 14 points, shooting 52 percent from the field and 56 percent from 3-point range, has made 18 straight free throws and has 4.5 assists per game.

"Josh is our best player and Chris is No. 2," said guard Matt Lottich, one of the team's top 3-point threats. "Hopefully we'll still be able to play team ball once they're back and it will make us even better."

Montgomery gets the most from his players. In Monday night's win, everyone on the roster made a contribution.

"They have a first gear, a second gear and a third gear," said Florida International guard Carlos Morban. "They came out in first gear, we saw the second gear halfway through the first half, and in the second half, we saw a third gear."

Stanford is determined to make it deep into the NCAA tournament. The Cardinal finished last season ranked No. 18 and lost to Connecticut in the second round of the NCAA tournament, its ninth straight NCAA berth.

"Our biggest thing last year was immaturity," Little said.

Childress believes that has changed, and knows this could be a special season.

"Everybody knows what it takes to be successful. Last year, we worked hard and were good, but now we know what it takes to win. It's actually just a mind-set."