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

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