ST. LOUIS -- Players and coaches attempt to treat an NCAA game like any other. Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins knows better. He played in three NCAA tournaments at Duke, then participated in 11 more as an assistant to coach Mike Krzyzewski at his alma mater.

"Just the amount of attention given to this tournament -- the basketball world is watching," he said. "I like it because it puts you on that stage where you get a chance to experience that moment."

The Cardinal (21-12) has had a week to digest playing in its first NCAA tournament in six seasons. But its neophyte standing in one of America's most-watched sporting events remains a potential stumbling block.

Stanford Cardinal’s Dwight Powell (33) dribbles against the University of California-Berkeley Golden Bears in the first half at Maples Pavilion at
Stanford Cardinal's Dwight Powell (33) dribbles against the University of California-Berkeley Golden Bears in the first half at Maples Pavilion at Stanford University in Stanford, Calif. on Thursday, Jan. 2, 2014. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) (Nhat V. Meyer)

There has been much discussion about the edge New Mexico (27-6) might have with its physical 1-2 punch of power forward Cameron Bairstow and center Alex Kirk. But the Lobos' more profound advantage is their experience of having been here in 2012 and '13.

"We think it will play key for us," Lobos coach Craig Neal said. "We've been fortunate to be in the tournament for three years, and I think the guys will learn from it."

Former Saint Mary's College coach Ernie Kent saw how the enormity of the tournament consumed his 1997 Gaels, who were first-timers to the event. It was Selection Sunday, and the players were euphoric when their name was announced on CBS. At least until their big freshman center recognized the opponent.


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"Seeing Wake Forest pop up there with Tim Duncan," Kent said, "Brad Millard literally turned pale."

That was just the beginning. There's a public practice the day before the game.

"When you walk in that arena, there's all those people for practice and your adrenaline goes through the roof," Kent said. "And that's not the game. The game's yet to come.

"They're going to get a sense of how big it is real quick. The media, a motorcycle meeting your team bus at the hotel and escorting you. It's a wonderful feeling, but also, 'This is big.' "

Stanford Cardinal’s head coach Johnny Dawkins yells at a referee during their game against the University of Arizona Wildcats in the first half at
Stanford Cardinal's head coach Johnny Dawkins yells at a referee during their game against the University of Arizona Wildcats in the first half at Maples Pavilion in Stanford, Calif., on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) ( Nhat V. Meyer )

The landscape will be different for Dawkins, too. He never has walked this path as a head coach.

"I'm wearing a different hat," he said. "You're going to be pulled upon more. You've got to understand the most important thing is coaching your team."

Managing his players includes coaxing from them a sense of desperation in a one-and-done format. But he also worries that seniors such as All-Pac-12 forward Dwight Powell could become more anxious than eager.

"You want to make sure he keeps his emotions in check because he's going to be so amped up because he's been fighting for this for four years," Dawkins said.

Powell said the players will rely on each other to stay grounded.

"One of the focuses is staying in the moment," he said. "We are going to be spending all of our time with each other in the hotel and are not going to really try to get too distracted by anything going on outside our immediate group. So far, we've been able to do that."

But what about game time?

"It will certainly be a challenge," senior reserve guard Robbie Lemons said. "The first couple plays there probably will be some jitters. I hope that will dissipate and we'll be OK."

Dawkins said this is an experience his players will remember forever. He knows because he still has flashbacks to his NCAA debut as a sophomore at Duke.

It was 30 years ago Tuesday in Pullman, Wash., and Dawkins scored 22 points against Washington.

"It was an awful game because we lost," he said of the 80-78 defeat. "I'm mad about it to this day."

Follow Jeff Faraudo on Twitter at twitter.com/JeffFaraudo.

friday's
local game

South Region, at St. Louis:
No. 10 seed
Stanford (21-12)
vs. No. 7 New Mexico (27-6), 10:40 a.m. TBS

stanford cardinal tournament history

NCAA appearances: 16 (1942, 1989, 1992, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008)
Final Fours: 2
Championships: 1 (1942)
Win-Loss: 21-15


The Stanford Cardinal, including Stanford Cardinal’s Grant Verhoeven (30), Stanford Cardinal’s Robbie Lemons (10) and Stanford Cardinal’s
The Stanford Cardinal, including Stanford Cardinal's Grant Verhoeven (30), Stanford Cardinal's Robbie Lemons (10) and Stanford Cardinal's Anthony Brown (21) head off the court following their 60-57 loss to the University of Arizona Wildcats at Maples Pavilion in Stanford, Calif., on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group) ( Nhat V. Meyer )