What a way to send out 2009. Now we'll try to start 2010 trying to make sense of what occurred on the court last night, not only at the end of the first overtime – though we have some thoughts and rule clarifications on that – but also throughout a game in which the Cougars came out surprising listless (and possibly a little nervous) yet still had a chance to win. Read on.
• Morning links: Before we get into more on the game, let's get you the story links. We have ours as it appeared in the paper and on the blog. ... Freelancer Howie Stalwick had his story in the News Tribune and other papers. ... Bob Clark of the Register-Guard filed this piece and our Greg Lee, working for the Oregonian, had this story. ... We'll get to the rest of the Pac-10 here now as well. ... The Huskies held off Oregon State and you can read about it in the Times and the Oregonian. ... USC coach Kevin O'Neill got a measure of revenge against Arizona as USC broke out early in the victory. ... UCLA carves up ASU's zone and edges the Sun Devils. ... One last link. Former WSU football assistant Robin Pflugrad is named the new head coach at Montana.
• Washington State: OK, the preliminaries are out of the way. When I talked with lead official Mike Littlewood after the game (Some inside baseball: Before the game ended I asked that the officials be made available to a pool reporter, which turned out to be me. It took about an hour of waiting and put us up against the early New Year's Eve deadlines. And they would only talk to the technical foul question.) he cited two rules they enforced. The first - Rule 6, Section 1, article 4B – speaks to when a ball is live. (If you want to download the rulebook, it is available here). The other, which I gave short shrift in the story due to space constraints, is Rule 10, Section 6, article 1N. It states a technical foul should be awarded when "A substitute entering the playing court without reporting to the official scorer or without being beckoned onto the playing court by an official (unless during an intermission)." As far as I can tell, to simplify it, when there are too many players on the floor during a live ball situation. The explanation was this: DeAngelo Casto's basket came with .3 seconds on the clock. At least one WSU player not officially in the game came on the court when, and this important, Oregon was trying to bring the ball inbounds (that's when the ball becomes live again as I read the cited rules and after having listened to the officials). Thus, under those rules, WSU had a competitive advantage. Here's how I see it:
• I never had an opportunity to watch the play again in its entirety. Sorry, but the game wasn't on TV in Pullman and I had no access to a replay monitor. But I did get to see, and DVR, the highlights ESPN showed last night. Much of what follows is based on that, which cut off before the whistle is blown.
When Casto caught Klay Thompson's pass and went up, Michael Dunigan made contact with his shooting arm. It didn't alter the shot, and Tony Padilla, the official under the hoop, did not call a foul (this is important later). As Casto's shot goes through the hoop, Dunigan grabs it before it can hit the floor. Oregon's Jamil Wilson had already started up the floor, followed by Nik Koprivica (they were the only two players who really stayed focused). Dunigan doesn't move toward the end line, he starts to walk toward the Oregon bench with the ball, before turning and looking for someone to hand the ball to. Malcom Armstead, who had ran past Casto on the shot, was the nearest Duck to the end line, but still not out of bounds. While this was happening, Casto had pulled himself off the floor (he came down funky and fell) and had started to celebrate. The Cougar bench was jumping up and down, but one player had run on the court toward Casto. He was joined by a fan in a crimson shirt and jeans. That's when the highlight ended.
Based on that, it's hard to image the whistle being blown, because no one was trying to get the ball inbounds and no count had started. So more must have occurred after the highlight ended. Did more players come on the court? I'm not sure because while this was happening I was trying to watch the fan leave the court, thinking he might be the reason for a technical, something I saw called at the end of a game about 30 years ago. For the same reason I don't know if WSU coach Ken Bone, after celebrating, tried to call a time out. By the time my eyes got back to the bench he was doing just that, but that was after a whistle had blown. I also don't know if Oregon's bench tried to call a time out, something that they didn't have. None of the players made any obvious time-out gestures in what I could see.
• Yes, a player and a fan ran on the court. Padilla even gestured for the fan to leave the playing surface before a whistle blew, something I observed. But I'm not sure prior to that the Ducks ever tried to inbound the ball, though I would love to be able to double check the rest of the video. The closest I see the ball to out-of-bounds is Dunigan about 5 feet from the end line.
• If the foul on Casto had been called, the whole point was moot. When Armstead scored to win the game, Reggie Moore reached in and hit his arm. But that foul was hardly more egregious than Dunigan's uncalled one, and came at almost exactly the same time in the second overtime. Why did the same official make that call and not the other? Who knows. The foul killed the clock, making the fact a Duck player ran on the court irrelevant, because there was no way for the Cougars to make the ball live. It probably should have been the same at the end of the first overtime.
• Did Bone try to call time out? He has a right to while the ball isn't live. If he does, and it's granted, the whole player-being-on-the-court thing is moot once again.
• Why afterward, when asked, did the officials (Littlewood, Padilla and Bruce Hicks) say they didn't see a fan on the court (I wanted to know if that played a part in the technical)? Littlewood did say "fans shouldn't be on the court either," but his presence, clearly visible on the ESPN video, must not have played a part in the call.
• All of this adds up to a loss to open conference play. Is it a devastating loss? That's something I will try to determine today and write for tomorrow's paper. But even though the last second of overtime is crucial, what happened in the other 2,999 seconds is also crucial. ... The Cougars slow start is hard to understand. Casto tried to explain it. "We had nine days off and haven't been in a rhythm of playing a game and I think it took us a while to pick it up," he said. "I can say that is a reason or whatever. We definitely didn't come out with the fire we had in the second half. I think that stretch really took something out of us." ... Reggie Moore seemed off from the start, not playing with the fire he usually shows, being a step slow and picking up some unnecessary fouls. He sat 17 minutes, finished with 10 points, three assists and three turnovers before fouling out. He also seemed a step slow on defense, losing his man, most often Porter, in the half court and not blocking out a couple times which led to second chances. ... Xavier Thames, on the other hand, played 21 minutes, including much of the first half. He responded with nine first-half points (11 overall). "X did a very good job," Bone said. "And X did a very good job on the defensive end also. Being about 6-2, 6-3, he did a nice job contesting some shots."
• Some other comments from the participants:
• Oregon coach Ernie Kent on WSU: "I want to talk about Washington state first. Because what a great job (Bone's) done; he’s changed their style of play. They’re every bit as good as their record. And when you’ve got two young teams like the two of us have, and you’ve got a conference where everyone says it’s down; it’s not down, it’s young. How about the future of this conference when you have a young team down there like they have?"
• Kent on Dunigan: "He’s been playing basketball since the 10th grade. I keep telling people they need to get off of him because he hasn’t been playing basketball very long. He was a force inside."
• Kent on Porter: "He took over the game. My comment was he hasn't played in six weeks so he has a lot of scoring to make up for."
• Porter on the win:This is real big for this team. We’ve got a young team; we’re growing; we still haven’t reached our peak yet for where we need to be. We’ve got a lot of learning to do. It’s a big win for us to start off Pac-10 play."
• Bone on the comeback: "I thought our guys showed a lot of toughness, a lot of character being down 15 on our home court, not playing well and yet sticking with the game plan, working hard, playing together and came back ... to have a great chance to win the game. We put ourselves in a situation to win it. That's not easy to do when you are down 15 playing the way we did early on. The guys did some really good things."
• Bone on the last shot of regulation, a 17-footer from Moore that fell short: "We were looking for Reggie to drive it and either create a shot for himself or for Klay to come off a screen from the low post and go to the corner. But I don't think Klay would have been open for the shot. And so Reggie decided to take that shot.
• Bone on Armstead: "That's why he's at Oregon. The brought him out of a junior college this last year to add a player who can really score and he can do that. He's a tough guy to guard."
• Bone on Dunigan: "He's a big kid. Six-10, athletic, strong. He's a good player. He has a presence on the floor on both ends of the court."
• Bone on the two calls: "I just need to trust they made the right call (on the T) and then they made the right no-call."
• That's it for now. We'll be back this afternoon with our preview of the Oregon State game. Until then …