January 26: Kyle Weaver snuffs out James Harden’s attempt at a game winning drive to the basket.
It was deja vu all over again.
Game Recap – February 3, 2007
Without a doubt, the two most excruciating wins of the past two years have both been by 1 point at Arizona State. In 2007, the Cougs scored a total of 12 points in the second half; nearly blowing a halftime advantage of the same amount. A failed inbounds pass gave ASU a wide open look for three at the end of the game. They missed, and the Cougs survived.
One year later, the Cougars failed to score anything in the final 3:11 of the game, nearly blowing a 10 point lead with just over 8 minutes remaining. James Harden drove to the basket with 42 seconds left. Kyle Weaver, in an eerily similar way to how he defended Brandon Roy in the final seconds at Hec Ed in 2006, took the charge. After a missed shot by Rochestie, Harden drove to the rim one more time. He may have been fouled. He probably was fouled. But Weaver stopped him from getting to the hoop. The shot never fell, and the Cougs survived.
Watching the ASU crowd immediately following the game was like taking a trip back in time to when the smaller, underdog ZZU CRU would witness the Cougs get beat by a referee’s call, or lack thereof. Common sense will tell you that one call, or one play, never truly decides the outcome of the game. But common sense doesn’t matter when you’re in a rabid student section. And so Sun Devil fans threw things onto the court. It was embarrasing. It was idiotic. It was all too similar to what WSU fans had done in the past.
I have a DVR and reviewed the replay several times. Depending on how I looked at it, it was either a blatant foul or a good no-call at the end of the game (a place where I believe refs should swallow the whistle). Personally, I had to set aside my Crimson glasses and call it for what I felt it was – a foul. But who knows? With zero games of officiating experience at any level, I’m not really qualified to make that decision.
So why then, is a questionable call the 8th biggest play of the year? Because it was a good play. A great one, even. Kyle Weaver did everything right on the final two possessions against Harden: He got good position, he drew contact but didn’t necessarily initiate it, and he made damn sure that Harden wasn’t going to get a good shot off. He also knew to err on the side of caution. Had the foul been called, Harden would at least be forced to earn the points at the stripe. One to tie, and two to take the lead, under the highest amount of pressure possible in the game. Most importantly, the defensive stop was a play that won the game for WSU when the offense couldn’t.
The value of this play, and the win, would really become clear later on. The Cougs, who had just lost at Arizona, would go on to lose their next three games at home. Had Wazzu dropped this one in Tempe, the Cougars would’ve experienced a five game losing streak – sending a very promising season into a sudden tailspin. Furthermore, that one extra loss in conference play would have ended up placing the Cougs behind USC for fourth place in the Pac-10 and in all likelihood eliminating WSU’s shot at the four seed they would eventually earn. Had the Sun Devils won, and I’m sure some of their fans have brought it up, this game could have been used later on to push them off the bubble and into the tournament. Obviously you can play the “what if” game with all sorts of events during the season, but if the Cougs had lost this one the results could have been disastrous.
There’s that saying that goes along with every close NCAA tournament game – “survive and advance”. The Cougs weren’t pretty in this game, by any means, especially in the final three minutes. However, they got the one play they needed from their most valuable defender, when it mattered most. They survived, and advanced.
Eventually, all the way to the tournament.