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Harbaugh can’t win, can’t lose

Times Staff Writer

Times staff writer Sam Farmer will be writing about the people he meets and things he sees this week at the NCAA regional in Anaheim:

Jim Harbaugh might not be a psychic, but he already knows the result of Saturday’s game between Stanford and Marquette -- at least as far as he’s concerned.

It will be a win.

And a loss.

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Harbaugh is Stanford’s football coach, but his sister is married to Tom Crean, Marquette’s basketball coach.

So when Crean’s team played Kentucky in the first game Thursday at the Honda Center, Harbaugh sat in the Marquette cheering section wearing a Golden Eagles T-shirt. Then he changed into a Stanford shirt for the Cardinal’s game against Cornell.

“I feel like Cooper Manning,” said Harbaugh, referring to the older brother of competing NFL quarterbacks Peyton and Eli Manning. “Now I know why people wear two shirts, the half and half.”

Harbaugh feels loyal to both schools, so he plans to find a neutral spot to watch Saturday’s game, away from the cheering sections of either school, and joked that he just might wear, say, green.

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“Honestly, the NCAA has put me in a tough predicament,” he said. “But I’m really happy that Stanford and Marquette have reached this point.”

Harbaugh is similarly split when it comes to his thoughts on which team might win.

“Marquette, I’ll tell you what, when they’re shooting well, they can win by 10 or 15 over whoever they’re playing,” he said. “They play such good defense.”

But he believes the game will hinge on the play of 7-foot Stanford twins Brook and Robin Lopez.

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“Marquette has to find an answer for the Lopezes,” he said. “That will be huge.”

Crean, who says he feels just like one of the Harbaugh boys, doesn’t seem too concerned about which way his brother-in-law is leaning.

“I understand if Jim’s loyalties are with his school,” he said.

Then, he jokingly dropped the gauntlet.

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“I guess I’ll just have to get Pete Carroll to come root for us.”

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Seeing as Stanford beat Cornell by 24 points, a more competitive matchup would have been a battle of the bands.

In one corner, the Cornell Big Red Pep Band, the one that refers to itself as the only “real band” in the Ivy League and has deep military roots.

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In the other, the Leland Stanford Junior Marching Band. It’s the self-proclaimed “world’s largest rock ‘n’ roll band.” Actually, it’s a scatter band, which, instead of marching, runs into various formations without a prescribed path.

“I’ve heard some stories about the Stanford band,” said Zach Glass, a Cornell trumpeter. “I hear that they’re big trouble.”

Known for its irreverence, the Stanford band is also famous for its complex and often bizarre formations. During halftime of a football game against USC, for instance, it formed a syringe to suggest the Trojans were users of performance-enhancing drugs. Or against Oregon, during the height of the spotted owl controversy, the Stanford band formed a giant chain saw.

While Cornell’s band didn’t exactly look buttoned-down and regimented Thursday -- its members all wearing untucked Where’s Waldo-type rugby shirts -- Stanford’s was typically goofy, with band members wearing sunglasses, political buttons, and various messages masking-taped on their backs.

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Working at the Honda Center on Thursday must have been a little like working on an Indianapolis 500 pit crew.

Because the day was divided into two sessions of two games each, the arena had to be quickly cleared during the intermission so tickets could be re-checked and spectators could again be put through security. The employees had less than a half-hour to do so, and the process seemed to go off without a hitch.

It helped that the last game of the first session, Stanford vs. Cornell, was a blowout, and that only about one-third of the 18,000-seat venue was filled. It also helped that UCLA was the late game, so there wasn’t a huge crowd waiting in the parking lot to reenter.

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Still, security had to scour the venue to make sure there weren’t any spectators trying to sneak into the night games without proper tickets.

“There’s probably some guy that stayed in there and got us,” said Kevin Starkey, the arena’s vice president of operations. “But one way or another, if they try to sit in a seat that’s already sold, they’ll be asked to leave.”

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He’s 12 years older and helped raise them, so it’s only natural that Alex Lopez would sound like a dad when talking about his kid brothers, Stanford twins Robin and Brook.

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Last year, Alex left his job as basketball coach of Woodland Hills El Camino Real High to help refine his brothers’ skills. As a 6-foot-10 center, he was a hotly recruited standout at Campbell Hall who went on to play college ball at Washington and Santa Clara, then for some overseas pro teams.

“Having been a coach the last four years and seeing them improve in the way I’d want them to, I’m just very proud of them,” he said.

The Lopez twins have come a long way since they used to play two-on-one games against Alex as grade schoolers.

“When they got to junior high, probably their eighth-grade year, they started hanging with me,” he said. “I was away doing all my basketball stuff, and I’d come back periodically. I remember taking them out one day to go play two-on-one, and I went up for a shot and Robin blocked it. I said, ‘I get the picture. I’m going to have to come a little stronger.’ ”

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There’s a fourth Lopez brother, Christopher, who’s the runt of the family at 6-7. The mere act of walking into a restaurant as a family can cause quite a stir.

“Everybody looks up,” said their mother, Deborah Ledford. “It’s, ‘How tall are you? How big are your feet? Do you play basketball?’ ”

The brothers’ favorite response: “No, we’re gymnasts.”

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sam.farmer@latimes.com


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