HANSEN

Greg Hansen: McKale miracle moves Cats closer to No. 1 in luck

Colorado's would-be game-winner 'came down to a fingertip'
2013-01-04T00:00:00Z 2013-01-04T21:43:47Z Greg Hansen: McKale miracle moves Cats closer to No. 1 in luckGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 04, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Slim and None left their seats, headed up the McKale Center ramp and into the night long before referee Verne Harris spread his palms out flat, as if to signify, yes, Lord, basketball miracles do come in sets of threes.

Harris is the most respected referee in the Pac-12, and among the five or 10 best in college basketball. He has called 41 NCAA tournament games, worked the 2004 and 2005 championship games, but rarely has he had to make a call like he did Thursday night at McKale.

As Harris agonized over the video replay, watching Sabatino Chen's buzzer-beating (or not) bank shot over and over and over again, hundreds of those who had left their seats, hundreds of those from the slim-and-none brigade who felt Arizona had exhausted its almost incomprehensible supply of last-second revivals, stopped and thought the same thing:

No way.

"It came down to a fingertip," Chen said outside Colorado's dressing room, fitted with the solemn expression of a young man who had already gone through a frenzied group hug after the Buffaloes celebrated, believing they had won 83-80.

Happy became sad again Thursday night, and Arizona went from loser to winner in another fanciful finish. It's getting to be the theme of the '13 Wildcats.

The longer Harris and his two officiating partners studied the replay, the more Arizona's hope grew.

Seriously?

Finally, Harris declared that the ball was still touching Chen's fingertip when time was exhausted at McKale. Game tied at 80. Lady luck was again riding shotgun with Sean Miller, the third time in 19 ridiculous days.

"We had the game won," said Colorado freshman Xavier Johnson. "It was over."

Arizona won 92-83 on a night that Miller said, almost eerily the way he did against Florida on Dec. 15, that the Buffaloes were the "better team for about 36 minutes."

Does anybody do the last minute better than Arizona? Not yet. Not this year.

"This is just one game," said Colorado coach Tad Boyle, a standup guy who could have intimated some nasty things about the officiating crew but didn't. "It hurts, it hurts bad, I'm not going to lie."

Down the corridor, sitting quietly with teammates Mark Lyons and Nick Johnson, with a happy countenance whereas Boyle had a look of someone who had been punched in the heart, UA senior Kevin Parrom fielded the inevitable question about flat-out, undeniable, luck.

"Luck is on our side now," he said. "But it won't be forever."

There's not a limit, is there? Who says this has to end?

Thursday's victory was not a thing of beauty. For 15 minutes, it might have been Arizona's worst overall performance since Ben Lindsey's king-of-crummy team, 1982-83, lost its season opener 104-63 at Houston. For 15 minutes Thursday, the Buffaloes played as well as the '83 Phi Slama Jama team, and Arizona was the team getting jammed.

It was 30-13 at one point. It was almost the tipping point, wasn't it?

"No question, we were very close (to the tipping point) several times," said Miller. "The percentages were not in our favor."

Early in the second half, unable to curb CU's momentum, Arizona senior Solomon Hill bulled into triple coverage and was whistled for his fourth foul. The crowd booed lustily; CU led 47-35.

Hill pleaded with Harris to reverse the call. It was absurd to think that CU, which had played so well for so long, couldn't finish the job.

A minute later, Parrom stole the ball, raced down court, lost control, lost the ball and then reached in to commit an unnecessary foul on Chen, who, on his career night, made both free throws.

CU led 50-35. There was 14:34 remaining.

Someone start the bus.

An Arizona revival was so dubious, so far-fetched, that with 13 minutes remaining, Hill, Johnson and Lyons - Arizona's Big Three - had combined to miss 16 of 18 shots.

By game's end, those three players had combined to score 51 points.

Never say never.

Ultimately, Colorado lost and Arizona won for reasons unrelated to luck. The Buffaloes couldn't make clinching free throws in the final minutes. Arizona couldn't miss; Lyons was 10 for 10 himself. Arizona dominated inside, out-rebounding CU 45-32.

"I'm not proud of this result, and I never will be," said Boyle, who seemed revolted by the suggestion it might be a moral victory. "We had the game won, in a lot of different areas. But when it's over, it's over."

As hundreds of UA fans retraced their steps, returning to the arena, awaiting the referees' decision on Chen's shot, Miller ordered his managers to place five chairs on the court.

He stepped into a huddle and began giving instructions for an overtime session before anyone knew there would be an overtime session. "I was sending the officials a subliminal message," Miller said, deadpan.

Part of Miller's routine as a college basketball coach is to subscribe to and study all of the angles. He is among the many who scour kenpom.com, a sabermetrics site established by Ken Pomeroy, the best of its kind in college hoops.

"KenPom has a stat on its site, about luck," said Miller. "Tonight we moved closer to being No. 1 there."

Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or ghansen@azstarnet.com

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


Pac-12 basketball standings

  Conference Overall
Team W L T PCT W L T PCT
Arizona 0 0 0 0.000 12 1 0 0.923
Washington 0 0 0 0.000 11 0 0 1.000
California 0 0 0 0.000 10 2 0 0.833
Oregon 0 0 0 0.000 9 3 0 0.750
Utah 0 0 0 0.000 9 2 0 0.818
UCLA 0 0 0 0.000 8 4 0 0.667
Arizona State 0 0 0 0.000 8 5 0 0.615
Colorado 0 0 0 0.000 7 4 0 0.636
USC 0 0 0 0.000 7 4 0 0.636
Stanford 0 0 0 0.000 7 3 0 0.700
Oregon State 0 0 0 0.000 7 3 0 0.700
Washington State 0 0 0 0.000 5 6 0 0.455

AP Top 25


Pac-12 basketball schedule

Teams Date Time
Harvard at
Arizona State
12/28 12:00 pm
Cal State-Bakersfield at
California
12/28 1:30 pm
Cal-Davis at
Washington State
12/28 4:00 pm
UCLA at
Alabama
12/28 4:30 pm
Stony Brook at
Washington
12/28 6:00 pm
Arkansas-Pine Bluff at
Stanford
12/29 9:00 pm
Cal-Irvine at
Oregon
12/29 9:00 pm
UC-Santa Barbara at
Oregon State
12/30 7:30 pm
Carroll (Mont.) at
Utah
12/30 7:30 pm
Vermont at
USC
12/30 9:30 pm
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