Thursday, February 28, 2008

Men's Basketball vs Washington 2/28/2008

Stanford 82 Washington 79With only 2 more home games left, we decided that it was finally time to bring out the tent. As I type this entry from said tent, I feel that it's a pity that we haven't camped out more this year since camping out has been a major part of our Stanford basketball experience. But with Albert managing softball and me on the road so much on top of being a Teaching Assistant, it's been hard to make schedules work. For our last senior home stand, however, I was determined to camp out. Hoping to be first in line for both games, Alex, Michael (a basketball enthusiast who I recruited) and I decided to set up on Tuesday.

In some ways, camping out at Stanford is more about pride and a show of dedication since showing up an hour before doors open easily gets you in the front row and maybe 2 spots down from us if you're one of the first non camper-outers to show up. At the same time, it's fun to be outside Maples, especially when there weather is beautiful, as it has been this week and talk hoops with fellow diehards. Sure you sacrifice some time and could be nice and cosy indoors, but it's a lot less dedication and hard work compared to what the team puts forth, and it can make the victories all that much sweeter. In any case, operating on a skeleton crew of 3 people, we secured our place at the front of the line.

After much ridicule about how everyone who had attended at least one previous game got into the "priority" line for Cal, the 6th Man committee decided to make an extra line for the more dedicated fans. The cut-off was 130 priority points and with Pac-10 games worth 10 points, non-conference games worth 20, and holiday and exhibitions games worth 30, it was a reasonable cut-off (in case you were wondering, I have 370 points). It only really mattered if you intended to show up before doors opened because once they did, it was first come first serve. And the majority of Stanford students don't have a habit of showing up early anyway. As one fellow senior and diehard commented, "Stanford students (nowadays) don't deserve a good basketball team." With the lack of noise from large portions of the 6th Man Section during basketball games, I find it hard to completely dispute that statement, which will be even more true after our class graduates. A Daily reporter was doing a rough head count by class of people who were outside Maples more than 20 min before doors opened and it appeared that seniors made up about 2/3 of the people. I'd be interested to find out the percentage of 6th Man who are seniors and grad students. In any case, watch out for his report in the Daily next week.

It's been a while since we've been front row and center - standing room that used to be our designated space during sophomore and junior year. It was nice to be back. Unsurprisingly, Tim Morris was heckled mercilessly by the 6th Man Section with shouts of traitor and references to humbio that he failed and caused him to be academically ineligible for a quarter. Tim, however, did smile when an old friend lamented how Tim's absence from their intramural baseball team cost them a championship this year. Brockman apparently friended a girl from the 6th Man Committee on facebook and so we had a picture of him wearing a girl's sweatshirt which we taunted him about. Still doesn't beat the Ryan Anderson and Jamaal Wilkes makeup photo.

As for the game, the positives are that our offense is looking much better (I guess it helps when your outside shots are falling) and even though we were unable to break the game open (mainly because of our defense), we managed to score timely buckets and make enough free throws to maintain that lead. Anthony had his second consecutive solid shooting night. As did Mitch. Let's hope they can keep it going. Lawrence, on the other hand, had a forgettable game. I don't think he registered a shot in the first half and then that airball open 3 was pretty bad. He did redeem himself with a move in the post for the foul and 1 but then missed 2 free throws after Brockman's intentional foul which in all honesty, wasn't that malicious (even though we started the dirty bastard chant). He's big and clumsily ran straight into Lawrence who he was trying to send to the free throw line. Brook was a turnover waiting to happen in the first but greatly improved his passing out of the double in the second - finding a cutting Taj for easy baskets. He made some nifty moves on the baseline in the first but then threw up some bad shots in the second. I wish everyone on our team could shoot free throws like Brook though. If we can cut down on turnovers and either make better decisions during fast breaks (Mitch especially) or always slow the ball down, we should be fine.

Our defense and rebounding intensity was another story. For the second straight game, we were out-rebounded by our opponent. These were opponents that we completely destroyed on the boards during our first meetings. This is definitely not a good trend (rebounding against Arizona State wasn't too hot either) and hopefully we can snap out of this funk and box out. Washington also did a great job against us inside, which is surprising since interior defense is usually our strengths. But full credit to Brockman and Pondextor who had great games in the post. They were a handful and we were lucky that Washington struggles from the line.

All in all, it wasn't the prettiest of victories. Nonetheless, I'm glad that we showed the ability to win a close game and hit enough free throws down the stretch. I like how Trent made the shift to bring in Drew for Robin. Even though he didn't time it very well and had Drew on defense when he could have had someone else play defense, take a timeout if they scored and put Drew in, at least it shows that he's comfortable putting Drew in at the end of games. Maybe something good came out of that ASU loss (and I'm not being sarcastic since crunch time in the tournament is truly what matters).

One more home game to go. It should be a good one with Washington State coming to town. So far, I'm 1-2 in senior day games with the only victory coming freshman year. Let's get that record to o.500. Boy is it going to be sad to see Taj, Fred, Kenny and Peter play their last games in Maples. Let's hope it's a memorable one.
~ Zhihao

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Men's Basketball vs Cal 2/24/2008

Stanford 79 Cal 69 For some reason, there was a lot more hype about this game than the Oregon game. Perhaps it was the Red Zone Rally where Coach Harbaugh announced that football tickets next year would still be free, and the students, band and dollies would be moved to the shady side of the stadium. Too bad that most of the students that were in line during the rally (15 minutes before doors opened) were seniors. It might have been the $10 student tickets, a #9 ranking and body painting being allowed for the first time in 2 years. Or maybe it was the realisation that we had a good team and there weren't that many home games left. Whatever the reason, we had a season record 714 students brave the rain and file through the 6th Man entrance today. Hopefully we can get similar turnouts for the last 2 home games.
While it was probably one of our louder 6th Man performances (by virtue of so many people turning up), I thought that the whole left side of the 6th man section was relatively quiet and it was the senior laden right side that was bringing the energy. I could be wrong but it sure felt that way from where I was standing. In any case, things are slowly improving. Hopefully Washington State can be the one game where 6th Man finally pulls it all together. A pre-game observation I had was that Will Paul was on crutches. I hope he didn't re-injure himself.

Cal is one of those teams that worries me because they have guards that can penetrate and like to push the pace. We did a great job playing solid defense on Anderson (holding him scoreless), forcing turnovers and really clamping down on them early in the first half. Our shots were also falling as both Anthony and Lawrence got into a groove and it seemed that we would run away with the game. Cal, however, started getting some offensive rebounds and hitting shots off out of bounds plays when we'd lose them off a screen. Meanwhile, our offense seemed to stagnate as they did a good job doubling Brook and our half time lead was only 4 points.

During half time, it was fitting that the Axe was presented. Much better than making a big deal about leading the Director's Cup Fall standings as they did when we played in Berkeley. There was also a football players vs coaches 5 on 5 game that was pretty physical and ended up being tied 5-5. During the Red Zone Rally, Harbaugh said (with the football players in attendance) that he hoped that the players would win but "we'll see what happens". I guess a tie was respectable.

In the second half, it was back and forth all the way. A couple of bounces went our way and allowed us to maintain the lead as Cal refused to go away. The most memorable play of the night had to be Taj posterising a Cal player, which brought the crowd and bench to their feet. We also did a good job knocking down free throws after struggling in the first half. Anderson, who leads the Pac-10 in scoring, finally got on the scoreboard to the tune of 15 points. He did most of his damage from the free throw line. The 6th Man section tried to get in his head with a "You wear makeup" chant which was based on a facebook photograph of Anderson and Wilkes applying makeup to each other. I guess it didn't work too well as he was a perfect 10-10 from the stripe.

On the whole, it was a decent win. Apart from Brook's struggles on offense (he still ended up with 15 points), we had a pretty good showing and kept turnovers to a minimum. It was especially nice to see Goods find his stroke and Mitch knock down open looks with confidence. On defense, we didn't rebound very well. Cal also made some tough shots. Full credit to them even though they shouldn't have gotten that many second chance opportunities. As for 6th Man, the overall energy level was good, although whoever threw one of those small white balls at the Cal cheerleader during a time out should have been reprimanded (great aim notwithstanding).

I'm glad that we took care of Cal. Two more home games (the last 2 of senior year!) before the much anticipated showdown against UCLA in Pauley. If you're reading this and going to the Washington State game, you probably don't need to be reminded, but it's black-out day. I'm very curious to see how many people forget and wear red. It's bound to happen. Hopefully marketing does a good job getting the word out and we can have some sponsor give out black shirts at the entrances.
~ Zhihao

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Men's Basketball @ Arizona 2/16/2008

Stanford 67 Arizona 66 With a day to kill before we played Arizona, I decided to check out the much vaunted nightlife in downtown Tempe. As a Stanford alum who had flown in from Palo Alto to see the ASU game (and his girlfriend for Valentine's Day) told me, Mills Street was where it was at. The rain probably didn't help and neither did the early hour I decided to go but I walked away pretty unimpressed. Perhaps once you've been to Vegas, everywhere else pales in comparison.

Unaware of the 1 hour time difference between California and Arizona, I had booked the 7:30am shuttle from Phoenix to Tuscon on Saturday morning, and so Ben and I got to the U of A a good 4 hours before tipoff. We found the student union and grabbed something to eat. I chanced upon the Arizona Daily Wildcat where Jordan Hill was quoted as guaranteeing a win. Arizona's Coach was taken aback by this bold declaration and questioned whether Jordan was drunk, while Bayless called Jordan a "special person". I also found it amusing that more than half a page of ad space right next to the article was devoted to nearby strip clubs - student discounts included!
After spending a couple of hours at the student union, we headed to McKale Center. Security was tight and my bag was searched before I could enter. One of the attendants gave me a disapproving shake of the head and said that I should not be carrying a backpack on Saturday. I retorted with a "sorry but I came from Stanford" as I dumped out my clothes and books. He then tried to make a joke about how Stanford stuff wasn't allowed inside the arena. Jackass.

McKale Center went pretty high up and I was located in the visiting team's section (i.e. just the last row) and surrounded by Arizona fans. Given Arizona's basketball tradition, it was unsurprisingly a great basketball atmosphere. The students came in early and were loud (especially during one f the refs chant), the older folk got on their feet whenever Arizona went on a run and even the attendants got in the act, cheering fervently and yelling from time to time.
We started out the game playing good defense but Arizona just flat out made some tough shots. Bayless sans the shoe problems he had at Maples was ominously good, especially after he hit a 3 with the shot clock running down and Fred in his face. For the most part, Goods was on him and Bayless pretty much had his way with him, drawing a couple of fouls when Anthony bit on the pump fake and Bayless leaned in. Nevertheless, we didn't give up too much to anyone else and rebounded well as Arizona eventually started missing. Meanwhile, on the offensive end, Brook was Brook and Robin put together another solid performance. One worrying observation was that we struggled when Brook wasn't on the floor and Trent had to limit his rest time since Arizona seemed to go on a mini run whenever Brook was not on the floor. Most of our turnovers were off travels which at least weren't giving Arizona transition opportunities. The half ended with Bayless missing a jumper with Fred in his face and I was happy with the 2 point lead. Defense and rebounding, that's how we're going to win games, or so I thought.

In the second half, especially the last 8 minutes, it seemed as if both teams were scoring on every possession. First it was Bayless torching Anthony and then Budinger finally came alive when Law couldn't close him out fast enough off screens and his open 3 pointers hit nothing but net. When Bayless wasn't making jumpers or layups, he was at the free throw line. I believe he was 12-12 in the second with the refs ruining the game by blowing whistles on everyone and everything. It was hard to see from my vantage point but it looked like it was pretty even. We may have gotten one or two more calls although I'm sure Arizona fans who were riding the refs the entire game would beg to differ. One thing I don't understand is why Fred wasn't in the game for any extended stretch. If this is a team that prides itself on defense, why wasn't our best perimeter defender in the game when he could have been guarding Bayless. I seriously doubt that Bayless would have lit us up to the tune of 20 points in the 2nd if Fred was on him some of the time.

It was a miracle we were able to keep pace with Arizona. Solid free throw shooting helped, as did the absence of Jordan Hill who racked up fouls (some debatable) and could only watch from the bench to see whether his team-mates could back up that guarantee. When Brook had to sit out after he picked up his 4th, I wondered who we would get points from but it seemed that everyone managed to chip in. The teams went back and forth in the final 2 minutes - first with Brook's jumper, then Budinger's 3 to put Arizona up by 1, and then Brook drawing a foul that completely incensed the Arizona fans. I obviously had no way of telling whether it was a foul and it looked pretty clean to me although replays (which I'm sure Arizona fans will deny since they still think Chase was called for a foul) show that Walters fouled Brook. I know this is an extremely small sample size (2 games) but perhaps a top 10 ranking results in getting some calls that you usually don't get on the road. We sure as hell weren't getting those sorts of calls against Washington State. In any case, Brook showed that he can be clutch from the free throw line and thankfully, we had Taj and Robin (that was a tremendous play) do just enough to force a Budinger miss without fouling. Anthony also had the presence of mind to bat the ball towards our end of the court as time expired.

That was a nice bounce-back win for us after Thursday's loss, especially since Arizona was favoured to win this game. As I said on Thursday, I'd have taken a road split in Arizona and a 21-4 record. Now, if we can just protect home court, we should be able to mathematically sew up the Pac-10 2 seed before going on the road, with the potential to challenge UCLA if they slip up.
~ Zhihao

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Men's Basketball @ Arizona State 2/14/2008

Stanford 68 ASU 72 (OT)After trips to Oregon and Washington, Arizona seemed appealing with its nice warm weather. Even though my flight was delayed by half an hour and the one hour time change took me by surprise, everything else went pretty smoothly. I was able to avoid a weird public transport encounter this trip but instead had the people in the room two doors down from me thrown out because of their dog that apparently scared several other guests with its incessant barking. It got pretty ugly as they demanded a refund (which was refused) and were threatened with police intervention.

In any case, when I got to Wells Fargo Arena, a guy with a video camera asked me for some sound bites. I obliged after warning him that I wasn't an ASU fan. He asked "What does college basketball mean to you?" and then tried to get me to say "When I miss a basketball game, I like to use facebook to keep track of the results." I refused the latter since a) no one uses facebook for sports updates and b) I don't miss Stanford basketball games. I also walked past an ASU students "pre-game fan fest" where 2 tickets to a Lakers-Suns game were up for grabs. There weren't that many students around. In fact, their student section (as far as I can tell, they don't have a name) wasn't as impressive as some of the other Pac-10 schools and the arena was pretty empty. Kind of disappointing for a program that's showing marked improvement. Someone commented that it might have been a Valentine's Day effect. I don't know. It did, however, make me appreciate a sign from an ASU student in the front row that said: "I ditched my girlfriend on Valentine's Day to watch the Devils".
There were a sprinkling of Stanford fans in attendance. Besides Law's friends and family who were behind the bench, there were about 25 of us in the upper sections. I met someone who had flown down from Palo Alto to watch the game with his girlfriend who was an ASU graduate and living in the area. The first half was a pretty ugly performance on our part. ASU jumped on us right from the start with Harden hitting several 3 pointers. We turned the ball over and had Brook, our only constant on offense, pick up his 2nd foul with 6 minutes left. ASU was killing us on the defensive boards and received numerous second chance opportunities. Trent also inexplicably picked up a technical after a call that seemed to go in our favour. I thought that we got more than our fair share of calls and could see why the home fans were annoyed with the officiating. At one point, someone from the ASU student section threw a shirt onto the court and coach Sendek had to get on the microphone and implore fans to refrain from such behaviour. In any case, I wanted to get out of the half with a not too sizable deficit and we did just that, holding ASU to 0 points after Trent's technical and scoring some buckets with our no Lopez lineup. Down 4 at the half seemed like a victory.

When we went on a great run capped by Landry's dunk and foul in the second, I was amazed that we had done it with a Lopez, Lopez, Fields, Brown and Shiller lineup. Landry had a great game tonight, making a 3, hitting his free throws and driving to the basket. I guess the thing with Landry is that you can immediately tell when he's having a good night and when you should leave him on the bench. Tonight, he was knocking down shots and full of confidence. Then came our meltdown. It had a lot to do with us not boxing out and giving ASU second chance opportunities. Even though Robin was having a great second half, it seemed like having one Lopez twin guarding a shooter wasn't the best move when we knew that ASU would be shooting 3s in the closing seconds. In fact, ASU had tons of good looks from 3 point land throughout the game and finally started hitting them when it counted. The multiple missed free throws hurt as well. Perhaps we should have gotten Drew in the game when they were intentionally fouling.

As I think back about it, we really didn't deserve to win the way we rebounded and played down the stretch. Full credit to ASU and the one fan who rushed the court after the victory and was handcuffed by police. But even so, with Pendergraph fouled out in OT, I don't understand why Fred (barring injury) wasn't given the job of shutting down Harden, who was clearly their go to guy. Even if he hurts us on offense, I think we could have mustered up enough points. At the very least, we could have tried some offense-defense substitutions. Without a doubt, this is the one that got away. Maybe it'll dampen the expectations and pressure on the guys with all this top 10 rankings talk. I don't get this sense from the team but with all the hype surrounding them, it can be easy to get carried away. Coming into this trip, I told myself that I would be satisfied with a split. It's still doable so hopefully the team can bounce back from this loss.
~ Zhihao

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Men's Basketball vs Oregon State 2/9/2008

Stanford 71 Oregon State 56 After our decimation of Oregon, it was no surprise (to me at least), that there would be some sort of letdown against the Pac-10 cellar dweller. It was pretty apparent from the fan's viewpoint. No one camped out for Oregon State and the 6th Man line before doors opened was pretty paltry considering that it was a Saturday afternoon game. Some people made a huge Pac-9 sign with a red 9 drawn over the Pac-10 logo and strategically placed it behind the FSN announcers during half-time for a good 30 seconds. I was surprised that they weren't asked to remove it. Even though it was Oregon State, my games left at Maples this year are numbered and so I made it a point to get there early. I put the time to good use - spending the gorgeous afternoon grading homework and witnessing a red-coat chase a couple of guys who were playing frisbee off the practice football fields.

In an effort to increase 6th Man support (I would think that being ranked #9 in the nation would be a good incentive for people who have 6th Man to go to games but I guess that doesn't necessarily hold true at Stanford), the 6th Man committee is selling tickets to students for the remaining home games for $10 a piece. If they want to be in the 6th Man Section, they can buy a shirt for another $10. That is a ridiculously good deal. It also seems to me that if you have tickets for the game but want to stand in the 6th Man section for the remainder of the home games and make a lot of noise, you could just buy a 6th Man Shirt (since they didn't ask for my student ID when I bought 2 for friends)...

As people have commented, we could more fervent support. Even though the 6th Man Section did fill up decently well due to many people taking advantage of the $10 tickets (I think) and Oregon State turned into a game instead of the expected blowout thanks to good early outside shooting from OSU (Oregon, in my opinion, had better looks from the outside on Thursday but just missed), a full court trapping kind of defense similar to what Northwestern played against us, and Brook being double teamed whenever he touched the ball and turning it over too often which led to easy OSU baskets, the 6th Man section didn't really get into the game noise-wise. Rather, they complained about the refs incessantly. While I admit that the refs blew a few calls, I've definitely seen worse and I expect our team to play through them rather than get frazzled and frustrated, especially when playing at home against a winless OSU.

On a positive note, despite the turnovers, we still won by 15 thanks to our excellent rebounding and stellar free throw shooting. Lawrence had another solid outing although I felt that he could have been more aggressive in pulling the trigger during the second half when we seemed to stagnate on offense. Taj also won over many first time fans with his hustle and energy. He will be sorely missed next year. The optimistic side of me also thinks that it's a good thing that Brook got side-tracked/frustrated in a game that we didn't need him to dominate in order to win. I saw signs of it against WSU but he definitely lost his composure today. He should expect to be doubled and played physically every time he touches the ball from here out. WSU was the first team to do it for a whole game and I would do it too if I were the opposing coach. Hopefully he'll learn from this game and we'll continue to work on passing out of doubles and making the extra pass in practice.

I also think OSU is due some credit for the way they played. Sure they were physical and some might even say cheap, but so is UCLA. If they can continue to play this way, they will get a win somewhere. In other news around the conference, the middle of the Pac-10 is wide open. You can spin it as either a testament to the depth of the Pac-10 or the inconsistency of the teams. Regardless of which theory you subscribe to (I lean towards the latter), I'm definitely not complaining about this 3 game cushion we have. It's on to Arizona now - one of the trips I've been looking forward to because of the weather. Earlier on in the season, I would have been happy with a split but now, I can't help but look for a sweep. That's what expectations will do to you. Maybe I should focus on how road teams get fewer calls. That might help temper my expectations.
~ Zhihao

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Men's Basketball vs Oregon 2/7/2008

Stanford 72 Oregon 43 Upon getting to Maples at 2pm, I was pleasantly surprised to see 4 tents - an improvement over Arizona and a development that bodes well for senior day when we play Washington State. Also, I might be wrong but it felt like the 6th Man section filled up much earlier today (another good sign). It was in direct contrast to the rest of Maples which seemed relatively empty until 5 minutes before tip off. Perhaps people were getting off from work.

The side of the 6th Man Section nearest the Oregon players did their usual heckling job during warmups with Tajuan Porter bearing the brunt of it. Meanwhile, Brook was shooting 28 feet jumpers and making a respectable number of them. In an act that still puzzles me, the 6th Man Committee thought that reminding Oregon of Kevin Love's performance against them as well as their Pit Crew's warning of taunting him with homophobic comments warranted a sustained Kevin Love chant + sign. I respect his character and game, but will never chant the name of an opposing star in a non-derogatory manner.

With the increased hype that a top 10 ranking brings, I was faintly worried that we might suffer a letdown, especially if Oregon got hot. Thankfully, that wasn't the case and we won our most convincing game of Pac-10 play, just like a top 10 team should do. After Oregon's performance tonight, I wonder whether the NCAA mock bracketology that took place yesterday would still have them winning the Pac-10 tournament. For what it's worth, they have us as the worst #2 seed. Still a lot of basketball to be played but at least for the first time in my 4 years here, we're thinking of our seed and where we could be playing the first week of the tournament instead of just making it.

After 3 consecutive road games, it was good to be back home. I'm sure the players felt the same way too as they started the game shooting lights out. I don't think we've shot the ball so well for a stretch since our opening game against Harvard when we dropped a 111 on the Crimson. It was nice to see Goods back (even if he didn't shoot particularly well) and even nicer to see Law put together another solid performance. Continue running plays for him. That's what I say.

Our hot shooting didn't last forever, especially when Oregon went zone, but our defense more than made up for it. We were absolutely dominant inside with Brook and Robin swatting shots with abandon. If they are allowed to play defense like this (as opposed to Washington State where fouls would have been called on a couple of the blocks), I'm liking our chances of winning out at home. I was also pleased to see that we didn't give up any layups to Porter, unlike the game in Eugene. We did give up lots of open shots on the perimeter (off high screens). Oregon, however, couldn't buy a jumper in the 2nd half and we did a great job on the defensive boards. Nonetheless, I'd like to see us do a better job defending the high screen as well as contesting shots since that's the offense that most teams are going to turn to once they realise that attacking us inside is futile. All it takes is a team to get hot, especially if we are on the road.

I also wish we could shoot better from the free throw line. Even though we seem to be getting offensive rebounds off most of our missed free throws (a testament to our hunger on the boards), I'd be happier if we made them. Right now, Brook and Taj are the only players who I have great confidence in and even Brook can go into a mini slump every now and then (think Cal game). Speaking of Brook shooting free throws, an amateurish Oregon fan tried to throw him off during one of his second half free throws. Is that really necessary in a blowout? I like to save my opposing floor free throw disturbances for the end of close games. The element of surprise is crucial and you don't want to squander it when the game's not on the line.

All in all, a solid dominating performance which allowed players like Josh and Prowitt to get some playing time. Our winning score was also identical to the women basketball team's victory up in Eugene. When's the last time that happened? It'll be hard to follow such a convincing victory against Oregon State who surprisingly played Cal pretty close tonight. UCLA also won in Pullman to keep them 1 game ahead of us while sending Washington State to 5-5. If we could stay within a game till we meet UCLA in Pauley, I'd be satisfied. But I'm getting ahead of myself. We need to take it one game at a time, except maybe Oregon State where my main concern is staying healthy.
~ Zhihao

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Men's Basketball @ Washington St 2/2/2008

Stanford 67 Washington State 65 (OT) All my worrying about getting into Pullman turned out to be excessive. Everything ran according to schedule and it was a beautiful day in Spokane when we touched down. If not for the snow covered surroundings, there was little hint that a snow storm had caused a state of emergency and classes at WSU to be cancelled for the first time in decades.

We were on the same flight as two of the professional announcers for Stanford basketball, John Platz and Dave Fleming. Dave kindly offered to give us a ride to Spokane Airport after the game, saving us from being stuck in Pullman for another day and being in the air during the Superbowl, as we had originally planned. Speaking of the Superbowl, I have a bet riding on how long Jordin Sparks will take to sing the Star Spangled Banner. The over-under was 100.5 seconds, and after watching her performance during the NBA finals on youtube, I took the over. I might be on to something as the line has now moved to 103.5 seconds.

After watching College Game Day where all 3 analysts picked WSU to win, we took a shuttle to the snow shrouded WSU campus. There were already more than a hundred students in line with a good 2 hours before tip off. Thanks to the lack of players' guests who made it to Pullman, I scored seats 2 rows behind our bench and was the only Stanford fan in the section. Aware that this was probably my last shot at such great seats, I made sure to treasure the courtside experience.

I was disappointed to see Anthony not suited up during warmups but I was glad (and I'm not making this up) to see Law looking good. Compared to Washington warm ups, it really was like night and day. The ZZU crew (WSU's student section) got on Robin while he was shooting 3 pointers but he seemed to take it pretty well. Even though they stood for the whole game, I noticed that they were the only student section I've seen thus far that has seats (as opposed to standing room). They go more than 20 rows deep and stretch from sideline to sideline as well as behind the basket. That's a lot of space set aside for students. One other thing that I noticed was that WSU's players warmed up by coming onto the floor in groups of 3 or 4 with the biggest cheers reserved for the grouping of Low, Weaver and Rochestie. My favourite sign in the crowd was: "We flew 8453 miles to see Baynes beat Stanford". It's going to be a long flight back to Australia after that 3 point, 5 foul performance. 4 point underdogs, 17 turnovers, down 9 points several times in the 2nd half, missed free throws and our best defensive guard not suited up, it's hard to explain how we won except by saying that this was one of the wins that we gutted out. The officiating was absolutely terrible both ways with WSU getting a few more calls in their favour. There were phantom fouls and goal-tends, and Brook was being mauled in the paint. At one point, Trent turned to towards Platz and Fleming in exasperation, as if to say, are you seeing what I'm seeing and can you believe it? But while the players (Brook especially) were getting increasingly frustrated by the officiating, Trent made it clear during one timeout that they needed to play through it and let him worry about it. During another timeout, an assistant coach told the players that they needed to go out and take it. And they did.
The team simply refused to back down. Every time it seemed that WSU was going to stretch the lead to double digits and the calls were going against us, we would make a play. Lawrence stepped up in the game we needed him the most, hitting 3s off screens and even getting the ball in the post. If I'm not wrong, he was 3 for 3 from 3 in the second, and we needed every single one of those. He also did as good a job as one can do containing Weaver who was WSU's go to guy. Taj was another guy who stepped up and contributed in a big way, coming excruciatingly close to winning it in regulation, but more importantly making great cuts to the basket that Brook found him on. He also had a sweet move in the post in the first when both Brook and Law were on the bench and we desperately needed points.

Robin had some key buckets in overtime with a tip in and of course, the spinning runner when he recognised that the shot clock was running down and he needed to get a shot off (check out the guy in a black shirt, white cap with his fist pumped in the top right hand corner).He also had a bad defensive foul while being overly aggressive on the boards which infuriated Trent. He told the guys on the bench something along the lines of we've practiced situations like this and now we're being punished for the mistake. Let this be a lesson to you. Even though Brook didn't shoot well from the field, thanks to double teams every time he touched the ball and lots of "physical" defense, he was solid from the foul line. I recommend that we inbound the ball to him when the other team starts intentionally fouling. He also did just enough defensively to make Rochestie miss the game tying shot at the end of OT.

Fred struggled somewhat early on but was key when we needed to shut Low down towards the end of the game. He battled through screens and stifled their hot shooter. Even though Mitch had some terrible turnovers in the first half and should have iced the game from the line, he also hit several key jumpers for us, while doing a decent job on Rochestie. Not his best performance but I think the good cancelled out the bad. With Landry MIA (a shooter should never airball a free throw), I was pleased to see Kenny being put in. The only Stanford player not to be charged with a turnover, he struggled on defense, losing Low on screens several times and being beat off the dribble as well (we definitely missed Anthony on defense). Nevertheless, he was key to our run in the second where a surprising lineup of Brook, Taj, Kenny, Mitch and Fred got us back in the game (and Brook wasn't doing all the scoring either).

Finally, there was me. Proudly wearing my black 6th Man shirt in a sea of red that whined almost on cue every single time a foul was called on WSU or any time we made a defensive play in the paint, I made it a point not to complain about the officiating (no matter how egregious it was) but cheer like crazy every time we made a play. I was met with several cold stares but their incessant badgering of the referees made me want to be that one annoying visiting fan among the homers wearing Cougar-tinted glasses. I have to admit that I lost it once when one continuous whiner who would yell stuff like "call it both ways", "that's a travel" (every time Brook or Robin got the ball) and my favourite "that's 2 steps" (I think he meant 3) yelled at Trent to stop whining. I turned around, smiled and said "What about you guys?" Let's just say that it didn't go down very well.

When the game was on the line with WSU shooting free throws and the refs asking our bench who were yelling stuff like box out and get the rebound, to sit down, I broke my rule of not yelling during free throws in opposing arenas (unless it's Cal). I timed them right before the release and was 3 for 5. I've been reading about some of the complaints on WSU message boards who might have mistaken me for the bench. The way I see it, I flew all the way to the middle of nowhere to watch the game in an extremely hostile arena. I would do it again in a heartbeat.

In any case, this was a HUGE road win. I'm so impressed of how we managed to claw and pull this one out. With UCLA beating Arizona, we have 2 games of separation from the rest of the pack midway through the season. While there's definitely still a lot of basketball to go and we need to take it one game at a time, if we can stay healthy, take care of our business at home, and continue to improve, we just might finding ourselves in Disneyland during the first weekend of the tournament!
~ Zhihao