Top 10 Cougar Plays: #1

December 5th: With 29 seconds remaining, Taylor Rochestie hits a three over the outstretched arm of Austin Daye.

Play is at the 1:28 mark of the video (note: watch the crowd’s reaction)

Video courtesy of the Spokesman-Review’s Nick Eaton, via YouTube

Game recap

This was the biggest shot – in the biggest game of the year. This is why Taylor Rochestie gets the ball in the final minutes of a game. And it’s partly why you haven’t been hearing a certain term regarding WSU’s propensity for blowing leads any time recently.

To really understand the value of this play, you have to understand the significance of this game in Eastern Washington. It may have been the biggest game ever played in Spokane – certainly the biggest in the decade of life I’ve spent on this side of the state.

It starts with the Zags. The Bulldogs turned a single Elite Eight run into a year-in year-out college powerhouse, complete with ranked recruits and a gorgeous new arena. The McCarthey Athletic Center, affectionately called “K2” (the second “kennel”), seats 6,000 comfortably and is one of the most powerful homecourt advantages in all of college basketball. Coming into this season, the Zags had lost one game there. Ever. And that was to a Santa Clara team that happened to utilize Spokane native Danny Pariseau, who transferred to SCU from Eastern in part because of a death wish for the Zags.

So it’s hard to beat the Zags in Spokane. And prior to the Cougs’ win, Gonzaga had never lost in K2 while ranked.

But last year the Zags supremacy in Eastern Washington hit a snag that no one saw coming. Certainly there were threats to the Zags. The WCC schedule means that GU is always their conference opponents’ biggest games, and Oregon and Washington were becoming giants in the Pac-10. But Washington State? The perennial doormat of the Pac-10? No chance.

Well, no chance until the Cougar program awoke with a 10 point win in Pullman. All of a sudden the Cougs were the lovable underdogs, and the Zags were the powerhouse getting beat on the court, and beating themselves off the court with drug arrests (you know, big school problems).

Of course I had switched loyalties earlier on – my sophomore year, to be exact, when I became frustrated with the high expectations for GU and fell in love with a style of play many people call “boring”. Dick Bennett’s team concept, along with all things WSU, overcame my loyalty to the Zags as a Spokane Valley native. I’m still a fan of the Zags – I just neglect to root for them during one game each season.

In the middle is Spokane – a city with a clear sports identity prior to 2007. WSU Football, Gonzaga basketball, and the city’s minor league teams were kings. But Cougar basketball fractures the fanbase. WSU alums had to defect back to the Crimson and Gray, and fairweather fans weren’t sure which ship to jump on. No clearer was the divide to me than when I saw a “GO COUGS” on a readerboard off the Hamilton Street Bridge. The McCarthey Athletic Center was in my rearview mirror.

KHQ has a half-hour TV show dedicated to the Zags. KXLY now counters with a 30 minute Coug show. It’s a city divided, and in December it was ready to crown a temporary champion.

Thanks to ESPNU and the lack of cable providers that carry it, most people had to take this game in at the dorms on the WSU campus or at a sports bar. I wish I was one of them – there are few better ways to watch a game than in a group of crowded, passionate, moderately intoxicated fans.

Instead, I was at home, keeping track of the score on Yahoo throughout the game, then checking ESPN video for the game when it was over. And that’s how I saw the play – in a small window on my PC, I watched Rochestie insert a dagger into the mighty Gonzaga Bulldogs. The same Bulldogs who had a player declare earlier in the week that WSU was second best in the state.

For at least one night, there was no doubt who the best team in Washington was. Taylor Rochestie made sure of that.

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