UA-COLORADO

Arizona basketball: Buffs' Chen enjoyed spotlight

Senior can't distance himself from The Shot, even if he wanted to
2013-02-14T00:00:00Z 2014-08-01T11:25:05Z Arizona basketball: Buffs' Chen enjoyed spotlightBruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
February 14, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Just six weeks ago, if Sabatino Chen was known at all outside Colorado, it was mostly for hustle and grit, for being the kind of guy who did everything that didn't go in the box score.

That all changed in perhaps the most famous split second in college basketball this season.

Having hit two three-pointers previously in his two-year Buffs career, Chen was left alone on the wing in the final seconds of a tied game with the Arizona Wildcats on Jan. 3 at McKale Center. He lofted a three-pointer at the buzzer, and it improbably banked in, appearing to give Colorado an 83-80 win.

After a video review, officials ruled that the ball remained on Chen's fingertips when time expired, even though many publicly viewed angles showed the shot left Chen's hands with 0.1 of a second left.

Within hours, Chen's shot was dissected all over the country, on ESPN, on Twitter, YouTube and just about every other venue of discussion.

Chen, a senior, was associated instantly, and maybe permanently, with The Shot That Wasn't.

"That's the way of the world with our media coverage and how a game like that can get attention," Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. "You become kind of a household name quickly."

This week, leading up to the Arizona-Colorado rematch tonight at the Coors Events Center, Chen was predictably slammed with interview requests. But during a brief telephone interview with the Star on Wednesday, Chen spoke softly yet did not completely shy away from the moment.

"It was cool just being a part of the national attention," Chen said. "I've never had anything like that."

Of course, even if Chen wanted to distance himself from The Shot, he really can't. Even now, with the Buffs having won five of their past six games to jump back into the Pac-12 race, Chen still gets asked about it.

He'll answer with a smile and, yes, an agreement.

"Just randomly, when you're out, people will say 'That shot should have been good,'" Chen said. "When people ask, I'll tell them I thought it was good. They say, 'Why didn't it count?' I don't know."

The ironic thing is that the moment didn't crush Chen individually. In fact, it may have helped.

Chen finished the Jan. 3 game, which the UA won 92-83 in overtime, scoring 15 points on 6-for-10 shooting, and he has averaged 5.3 points in Pac-12 games. He has made five more three-pointers since Jan. 3, too.

"That was kind of a breakout game for him in terms of shooting the ball," Boyle said. "When you have a guy that's not a great shooter, and you see that in practice, you're waiting for that game where they break out with multiple shots. And for Sabatino, it was the Arizona game."

It was the latest in an almost fairy-tale progression for Chen, who played in the shadow of CU at Monarch High School in nearby Louisville, Colo. Chen was so lightly recruited out of high school that he accepted an offer to play for low-level University of Denver and, only when Boyle took over the Buffs in the spring of 2010, did he get an offer to play in Boulder.

Chen sat out the required redshirt year in 2010-11. Then, when he became eligible last season, he averaged 9.9 minutes a game while the Buffs won the Pac-12 tournament and reached the third round of the NCAA tournament.

This season, Chen is averaging 24.4 minutes in Pac-12 play as a part-time starter. Freshman forward Xavier Johnson is scheduled to start in Chen's place tonight because of Arizona's bigger lineup, but Chen starts games that dictate smaller lineups.

"I'd say it's worked out in a way that I couldn't have expected," Chen said. "I definitely wanted to play right away so I went to Denver. But after playing for a couple of years I wanted to go somewhere and have fun. … I wanted to play at a high level."

But while Chen's career and confidence may have reached another level that night at McKale Center, the evidence suggests the Buffs deflated a bit. Whether Colorado suffered temporary psychological damage at McKale remains unclear.

"Everybody points to the Arizona loss as a hangover," Boyle said. "Whether it was or wasn't doesn't matter. But we have put it behind us and moved forward. We're playing really well."

One of the reasons they are playing well is that Chen is, at the core, still the same gritty, do-whatever-necessary kind of player. His Twitter avatar, after all, is a picture of him diving on a loose ball, not hitting a shot or dribbling.

Boyle said he brings the Buffs "tremendous energy," a guy who can simply make things happen, and UA coach Sean Miller agrees.

"One of the things about Sabatino Chen is he's a total team player," Miller said. "He's unselfish, and he can be effective without scoring points."

Or even when the points don't count.

On StarNet: Join your fellow Wildcat fans in a live chat during the game and read a transcript of Patrick Finley's Pac-12 basketball chat from Wednesday. live.azstarnet.com

Today

• Who: No. 9 Arizona at Colorado

• When: 8 p.m.

• TV: Pac-12 Arizona

• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM

Contact reporter Bruce Pascoe at bpascoe@azstarnet.com or 573-4145. On Twitter @BrucePascoe.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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