January 20: Taylor Rochestie throws an inbound pass halfway down the court to a wide open Robbie Cowgill, who takes it the rest of the way for a dunk.
This was an exclamation point play.
You know, one of those plays that happens when you’re team is just about to seal up a victory, and then makes a spectacular play to shut the door for good. The special thing about this play, however, is who the opponent was.
The Oregon Ducks had won 13 straight against WSU and were the only Pac-10 conference opponent that the combination of Dick and Tony Bennett had failed to beat since arriving on the Palouse. The last two times the Cougar fans saw the Ducks in Pullman were particularly excruciating losses. The most publicized of those two games, which came right as the Cougs were rising to prominence in 2007, ended in overtime after a controversial (although not so controversial on the replay) call on Aron Baynes gave Maarty Leunen the chance to tie a game in regulation. Many Coug fans had heard the buzzer first and were already celebrating – but Leunen sank his free throws and the ducks jumped out ahead on a 10-0 run in overtime. They got the win, but needed every point as the Cougs missed three chances to tie in the final 11 seconds.
If 2007 was controversial, then the 2006 Oregon/WSU game was an absolute robbery. It wasn’t televised, so if you weren’t there you didn’t see it. If that’s you, be glad, because you would have seen Aaron Brooks drive, pick up the ball and take three whole steps before passing to an open Malik Hairston who hit the game-winning shot with 0.4 left on the clock. It happened about 10 feet in front of me.
If bad history wasn’t enough, the Cougs were also fighting my own superstitions on that January night. The game was attended by my family, which includes my sister and her husband. My brother-in-law is a Duck (and part Vandal), and there’s nothing wrong with that. The only problem is that every Coug game we have been to with them has been against the Ducks. And every time, regardless of the sport, the Cougars have lost. We saw the aforementioned Leunen game, and the Kellen Clemens football disaster, among others.
The Cougs didn’t do much to assuage my fears in the first 4:07, letting the Ducks start the game on a 12-2 run. It all felt wrong. There was something about these guys. They owned us. Ernie Kent, the same man who called Friel the hardest place to play in the conference, also had an uncanny ability to destroy the home team every time his team played there. Nothing seemed to indicate that this night would be any different.
But, the Cougs hung around. And when Kyle Weaver made a jump shot to give the Cougs their first lead of the night with 14:59 remaining, the place went into hysterics. It was a combined effort. This time, the 11,000+ faithful at Friel, and the Cougs, weren’t going to let this one slip away. The defense was superb down the stretch, holding Leunen without a bucket in the final five minutes. Taylor Rochestie, with ice in his veins, sunk four consecutive free throws that would finally ground the Ducks.
But free throws by themselves aren’t exciting. What was exciting was what Rochestie would do next. Thank goodness the 2008 season is over, because no opponent ever seemed to realize that our go-to option on inbound plays, when we needed a clean one, was always Robbie Cowgill. Rochestie did his best Jason Gesser impersonation and lobbed the ball down the court to Cowgill. The Ducks, in fullcourt press mode, had no one beyond the middle of the court, and he was gone. The hex was broken. All was right with the world.
I was ecstatic, jumping with the crowd, and yelled something ridiculous along the lines of “the refs can’t help you every time!!” in the direction of the group of Duck fans to my right (I was not in the ZZU CRU for this one and my seats were one section over from a contingent of green and gold). My family went to Wingers for dinner – there was a huge grin on my face from the win, and there were smiles all around from my family because they knew that for once I wouldn’t be in a bad mood after a Duck game.