Stanford Cardinal coach Johnny Dawkins is preparing for the school’s first Sweet 16 appearance since 2008 after the 10th-seeded Cardinal stunned No. 2 seed Kansas on Sunday and says there’s a key to finding success when they face another Cinderella entrant in the South Regional, 11th-seeded Dayton, on Thursday in Memphis, Tenn.
“We have to ignore the noise,” Dawkins said on CBS Sports Radio’s “The John Feinstein Show” Tuesday. “Everyone around us is going to be happy that we’ve had some success and we’re still moving on, but we can’t focus on that. We have to focus on the task at hand. We’re going to play a very good basketball team. That’s all that matters is our preparation and getting ready to compete. To their credit, they’ve been focused and really engaged at what we’re trying to do.”
The 23-12 Cardinal finished in a five-way tie for third place in the Pac-12 this season with a 10-8 mark in conference play and things got a bit dicey for Stanford as they went through a three-game losing streak in late February and early March on the heels of a win over UCLA at Maples Pavilion on Feb. 22.
The Cardinal advanced to the Sweet 16 by beating No. 7 seed New Mexico 58-53 on Friday and outlasting Kansas 60-57 on Sunday.
Dayton’s road to Memphis was also pockmarked with some adversity. The Flyers (25-10) lost four straight games in January, including home-court losses to VCU and Saint Joseph’s before rallying to win 12 of their last 14 games, including wins over No. 6-seeded Ohio State and third-seeded Syracuse in Buffalo, N.Y., last Thursday and Saturday.
The only two common opponents between the Flyers and Cardinal come from the Pac-12. Dayton beat Cal 82-64 in the third-place game of the Maui Invitational on Nov. 27 and lost in overtime to USC at home, 79-76, on Dec. 22.
Stanford split two games with Cal, losing at home 69-62 on Jan. 2 and winning in Berkeley 80-69 on Feb. 5. The Cardinal swept USC, winning in overtime 79-71 in Los Angeles on Jan. 26 and beating the Trojans at Maples Pavilion 80-59 on Feb. 20.
While it’s been awhile since Stanford has been past the first weekend of the tournament, the Cardinal have experienced a Final Four in 1998, an Elite Eight in 2001 and Sweet 16s in 1997 and 2008 since the last time Dayton advanced this far into March.
The Flyers are in the Sweet 16 for the first time since making a run to the Elite Eight in 1984. It’s their first time in the tournament since 2009, despite winning 20 games in three different seasons since.
There is at least a fit of a familiar Pac-12 feel on the sidelines for Dayton, as well, as their coach Archie Miller is the younger brother of Arizona coach Sean Miller. Archie Miller got the job at Dayton, his first collegiate head coaching gig, after spending two seasons on Sean’s staff in Tucson.
The winner of Thursday night’s matchup will meet the winner between UCLA, seeded fourth, and top-seeded Florida in Saturday’s regional final.