Stanford's Keefe takes center stage against Oklahoma in NIT finals


NEW YORK -- Adam Keefe, a red-haired Stanford junior with shoulders about as broad as Kevin McHale's, will play center for the Cardinal tonight (9, ESPN) against Oklahoma in the championship game of the National Invitation Tournament at Madison Square Garden.

But according to several of the pro scouts Keefe drew to the semifinals Monday night, he is a made-to-order power forward, marked for delivery to the National Basketball Association.

"He is an excellent inside player who can shoot from the outside," said Hal Wissel, a former Fordham coach who scouts for the Milwaukee Bucks. "He is one of the best young college post players I've seen all season. He's a smart player who understands the game."

During Stanford's 73-71 semifinal victory over Massachusetts, Keefe constantly got the ball in the low post and scored, primarily on layups. When Keefe missed, he was often in position to grab the rebound and try again.

Playing all 40 minutes for the third straight game, Keefe finished with 24 points and 10 rebounds, which gave him 15 doubles for the season and 31 for his career. It was the 25th time in 32 games that he led the Cardinal (19-13) in scoring. He also had 10 rebounds.

A Pacific 10 Conference All-Star for the past two seasons, Keefe leads Stanford in scoring (21.8 points) and rebounding (9.5).

"I think one of the things that makes me good is that I always question how good I am," said Keefe.

How Keefe evaluates himself will decide whether he will spend his senior year at Stanford playing basketball and seeing action for a nationally ranked volleyball team or give up his final year of eligibility and apply for the NBA draft.

He is admittedly thinking of both options.

At a news conference yesterday, Billy Tubbs, the Oklahoma coach, said his team would have to pay a lot of attention to Keefe and 6-foot-7 Andrew Vlahov, who combined for 44 points and 21 rebounds against Massachusetts.

"Adam is a great player," said Tubbs. "He's big and strong and a good athlete. Stanford is a very physical team. They're bigger and stronger than we are."

Keefe is worth the price of admission, as is Oklahoma (20-14), which made up a 14-point deficit in the final 13 minutes to defeat Colorado, 88-78. It was the Sooners' 24th straight victory over the Buffaloes, dating to 1982.

But how many people will show up for the game tonight is a guess.

Probably not many, judging from Monday night's announced attendance of 8,064. The crowd included 15 busloads of Massachusetts students who came from Amherst to root for the Minutemen, who ended their season with a 21-14 record.

Will they come again tonight to watch the Minutemen play Colorado in the consolation game?

Unless the NIT gets several breaks, its semifinal and final-round games at the Garden are likely to become a made-for-television event.

The 54th annual tournament didn't get any help when Fordham lost to Massachusetts and when Providence wound up in the same bracket with Oklahoma and was beaten by the Sooners in the quarterfinal round. The NIT needed Providence and the scoring of Eric Murdock to swell the attendance.

With four successive NIT victories, Oklahoma has extended its streak of 20-victory seasons to 10.

"The NIT has been great for us," said Tubbs. "It's given us a chance to end the season on a positive note."

That's not bad for a team that tied for sixth place in the Big Eight Conference and lost 11 of 13 games heading into the NIT.

When Tubbs led Oklahoma to the NIT semifinals in 1982, it served as a springboard for a highly successful decade of basketball. He hopes the same thing will happen again this time.

Oklahoma has never won a NCAA championship or the NIT. Stanford's last postseason title was in 1942 when it captured the NCAA title.

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