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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Top 10 Cougar Plays: Recap

Just to give you some more hype for the #1 play, let’s look back at 2-10.

#2: Aron Baynes Coast-to-Coast

#3: Kyle breaks OJ Mayo’s ankles

#4: Robbie’s three-point play

#5: Baynes dunks on Brockman

#5a: Taylor’s halfcourt buzzer-beater

#6: Weaver’s reverse layup against UCLA

#7: Rochestie-to-Cowgill sinks the Ducks

#8: Weaver denies James Harden’s attempt at a game-winner

#9: Forrest dunks on NC A&T

#10: D-Low caps Baylor comeback

Overall, a pretty solid list of the top plays from last season. I’m still kicking myself over originally forgetting Taylor’s half court shot against UCLA. One other play I considered was Weaver’s other ridiculous reverse lay-in, against Brook Lopez. But, it’s too similar to play #6, and I like the one he made against Love better.

Stay tuned for #1. I finally found video of it.

Top 10 Cougar Plays: #2

February 21st: Aron Baynes does what Deadspin contributor Brian Tesch would later describe as “…the basketball equivalent of a lineman running back a fumble 80 yards for a TD”.

Video courtesy BHarmon1975, YouTube

Game Recap

You knew this was coming. You may be surprised it’s not #1, but I think you’ll find out the reasoning for that when I reveal the top play later.

The one thing you should notice about the video is how the crowd behind Baynes rises to their feet and goes nuts. That’s not the student section – it’s the alumni side, during one of the loudest moments in Beasley I have ever been a part of.

Not only that, this play changed the entire complexion of a ho-hum, defense-oriented stalemate with eventual tourney snub Arizona State. The game was 43-40 with just over 6 minutes remaining when Baynes jumped in front of a James Harden pass. He took it coast to coast, and the rest is history. Looking back I didn’t even remember the game was that close. The Baynes dunk woke the crowd up and started a 16-7 run to close out the game for WSU.

You can’t give Baynes all the credit; the WSU defense held the Sun Devils to just four points in the final 5:31 of the game. But without that play, ASU might have hung around a little while longer. Crowds, and teams themselves, tend to quiet down out of fear when an underdog is keeping a game close in the second half. Even an improved ASU team, we thought, shouldn’t have had much of a shot at beating the Cougs in Pullman. Well, we were wrong. The Sun Devils showed up for this one and the Cougs needed some extra effort to get it done.

Arizona State brought an impressive effort to the Palouse, but fell victim to a 6’10”, 270-pound Australian running the length of the court for a dunk.

Top 10 Cougar Plays: #3

February 9th: Kyle Weaver crosses over O.J. Mayo

video courtesy BHarmon1975 on YouTube

Game Recap

O.J. Mayo went from being the most overrated player in the country to one of the most underrated in a matter of months. ESPN is to blame – they likened him to the next LeBron on “E:60” and made 2007-08 into “the year of the freshman” when there were so many great players that weren’t (Tyler Hansbrough, Kyle Weaver, Mario Chalmers, among others). By the time people were frustrated that O.J. wans’t putting up 40 points per game, they seemed to forget just how good of a player he is, and will be in the pros.

Of course that’s what makes this play so fun to watch. That, and the fact that team (WSU) not only beat the talent (USC) this season, but beat the living tar out of them. Twice. And Tim Floyd hates the trip to Pullman. A year after getting into it with Tony on the sidelines (one of my favorite moments of last season), Floyd went ahead and got himself ejected from this game after an admittedly bad no-call that favored Kyle Weaver.

Anyway, at least we have some ammunition against the legion of USC football fans. If they talk down to us about football, we can counter with basketball. Just be a little more cautious around Tim Floyd, who will probably up the ante again by physically assaulting Butch during the 2009 visit to Pullman.

But I’m getting off topic. To summarize this play in four words: Kyle Weaver is awesome.

Regarding the blog, posting will be a little slow this week (finals week), but I hope to get another Cougfan article out by the weekend, and I’ll post if any big news happens or if I need to take my mind off of pharmacotherapy for a few minutes. Enjoy the week, everyone.

Top 10 Cougar Plays: #4

March 8: With 14.4 seconds remaining in regulation, Robbie Cowgill makes a layup and draws a foul from Jon Brockman.

Game Recap

Video (play starts at the 1:19 mark):

courtesy of Kapoleicoug on YouTube

“They had to scrap and fight for everything, that’s the way it’s been for Cougar basketball,” Bennett said. “It’s fitting.”

This was one of about four plays from this game I considered for the list. Three of those plays belong to Cowgill. This one helped send the game into overtime, and if he had made the free throw (he didn’t), the Cougs would have likely won in regulation.

In the first overtime, Cowgill again made a game-saving layup, this time on an offensive rebound to tie the game at 67. All I remember about that play was how wide open Cowgill was under the basket. Certainly in the right place at the right time.

Then, in the second overtime, Cowgill made the dagger, a mid-range jumper from the side that gave the Cougs a 73-70 lead – the same advantage the Cougars would hold at the end of the game.

The other play I considered was either one of Taylor Rochestie’s back-to-back threes that nullified two Husky leads of the same margin. Rochestie and Cowgill carried the WSU offense down the stretch, scoring 14 of the Cougars’ last 20 points. A fellow member of the crowd anointed Cowgill as “Big Shot Rob”, which couldn’t have been more true on Senior Night (with apologies to Robert Horry, who already owns the nickname).

But back to the #4 play. There was something that didn’t feel right about this game. Going in, and waiting for hours in line, there was a sort of relaxed confidence that you usually don’t see from Cougar fans. It was destiny – there was no possible way that Low, Cowgill, and Weaver could end their careers at Friel Court on a loss. And as for the Huskies, who had lost six straight to us, what chance did they have? Remember, the last game at Friel Court in which the huskies played was a 75-47 slaughterfest that ended with Ryan Appleby in tears on the bench.

But all hopes of another blowout were quickly dashed by a slow start from the senior day starters (Cross, Low, Weaver, Cowgill, Henry) and a 7-2 Washington run to open the game. The huskies hung around until a 12-4 run by the Cougars resulted in a 30-26 halftime advantage. Shots were falling for Wazzu, and the confidence was back.

…Until the huskies clawed their way back in. Twice. The Cougs held two advantages in this game that they should have run away with. A 37-32 lead with 16:26 lead got trumped by Quincy Pondexter and three straight husky baskets. Then, a 48-42 lead with 6:18 left (and possession of the ball), was canceled out by Husky free throws and one of the more egregiously awful stretches of officiating this season. The Huskies went on a 10-4 run, with eight of those points coming from the charity stripe.

And then, when Quincy Pondexter dunked the ball with 1:55 remaining, all hope seemed lost. The energy was sucked out of Beasley, and it looked like the bad guys were really going to win this one. There were about four times this game where I hung my head with the prospect of this game being a loss. It just couldn’t turn out that way. It wasn’t supposed to play out like that – but it was.

So who would step up? Weaver was the best player on the team, so he might. Low was the best shooter, so maybe he could drain a clutch 3 or to. Of course when it comes to clutchiness (fake ed. note: not a real word), no one tops Taylor Rochesite, so surely he would come through.

Nope. It was the other senior of the Big Three. It was Cowgill. And when that layup went through the net with 14.4 left, Beasley was one of the loudest places I had ever heard. Hope was restored. For the first time in about 15 minutes of basketball, I went from fearing a loss to believing we would actually win. The only thing that could have topped Robbie’s shot would have been a buzzer beater, which Kyle Weaver almost made when he stole the ball and raced down the court with seconds remaining. Of course, he got caught in that gray area with not enough time to get the layup, and not enough time to pull up for a jumper. So his runner bounced harmlessly off the glass. If he had made that, there’s your #1 play for the year.

Cowgill doesn’t get enough credit. Especially for his defense, which is a big reason why the Cougs have 7 straight wins over the Dawgs. Without him, Jon Brockman would almost certainly have led UW to a victory in one of those games. And on offense, it was always Cowgill that drained those mid-range jumpers, a lost art in today’s drive-or-shoot-the-three world of college basketball. Forrest is a similarly skilled player and a good replacement for next year, but Robbie was one of a kind.

So if you see Cowgill, thank him. Otherwise this guy might have been able to actually win a game against the Cougs in his career:

———–

The video above reminded me of one play I left off the Top Plays list that should have been included. So let me add it as #5a: Taylor Rochestie hits a halfcourt shot at the buzzer in the first half against UCLA. (play at the :54 second mark of the YouTube video).

Top 10 Cougar Plays: #5

January 5th:

Game Recap

Top 10 Cougar Plays: #6

February 7: Kyle Weaver does this:

Video courtesy of WSUCougarHoops on YouTube

What amazes me about Kyle Weaver is his ability to make seemingly impossible plays look pedestrian. Weaver’s game is so fluid, so cool, he lulls you to sleep before making a NBA-caliber offensive or defensive play.

There is only one concern I have about Kyle Weaver’s future in the NBA: He might end up playing for Clay Bennett. Thanks to the Sonics acquisition of a 2008 first-round pick from Phoenix, Seattle (or should I say the Oklahoma City Bandits) will be have a late first-round draft pick. Exactly where Kyle Weaver is projected to be drafted.

I can guarantee you I will be an instant fan of any team that drafts Weaver. I’m a Blazers fan, but I’m more than willing to pick up a second squad to root for in a league that I am becoming increasingly disinterested in (thanks, David Stern!). Weaver in the NBA, however, makes me excited about the association. Here’s the Cougar version of Brandon Roy, a player than can do everything well, getting a chance to contribute on the largest stage. And he’ll have success – his defense alone makes him a valuable pickup for the NBA team that wants him.

So – anyone but the Sonics, draft Kyle. You won’t regret it.

The Spring Signing period has begun, and there’s no news to report – yet. Don’t expect Paul McCoy to be the next Cougar signee as WSU was outside of his top three at last notice. It is possible that WSU is waiting for Ferris star DeAngelo Casto to clear academic hurdles. It is also possible that WSU could go in a completely different direction by finding a new recruit or awarding the remaining scholarship to returning Cougar Charlie Enquist. Only Tony and the staff know where they are leaning at this point. It’s something definitely worth keeping an eye on.