In 2001, Nebraska played Miami for the National Championship in football. Even though the Cornhuskers are my second favorite college team behind WSU, I'll be the first to admit they had no business being in that game. That was the year the BCS deemed that a one-loss Nebraska team that didn't even win the Big XII North was better than both 1) a Colorado team that just beat them 62-36 and 2) a one-loss Oregon team that actually won their conference and would go on to thrash Colorado in the Fiesta Bowl.
Anyway, I'll always remember my 16-year-old self watching the pregame and hearing Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit's predictions for the game. Corso and Herbstreit agreed the Hurricanes had the edge in the national championship in most facets of the game. You know, offense, defense, special teams. However, when it came down to the final pick, Corso went with... Nebraska. The reason?
I was just excited about someone picking Nebraska to win. I wasn't thinking about the logic.
Then Nebraska lost by a score of 37-14.
It was then and there I realized intangibles are meaningless.
And yet, for whatever reason, there seems to be a lot of intangible talk surrounding this year's Cougar basketball team.
When we lost to Arizona: this team was weak, Klay Thompson couldn't perform in the clutch, there was no heart, no hustle, and so on.
And then, when we beat UW? Tons of heart, determination, mental fortitude, grittiness, etc.
And then against California? Too overconfident, too many excuses, no heart.
And tonight? The opposite.
It's just basketball. I assume most of us here have played a sport in some capacity, whether it be varsity football in high school or a game of ping pong against your uncle. Or maybe just beer pong at a house in Pullman. Whatever it was, more often than not, didn't the game just come down to whether you were better than the opponent? Whether or not your team had better players? Have you ever phoned in a game mentally against an opponent and still won? Have you ever prepped for a game like crazy, came in completely focused, and been beat by someone that was just better?
I guess what I'm saying is that unless you know the players or coaches personally, you can't really know what their mental status is for every game. And even then, players always generalize in press conferences. They say things like "we didn't really bring it tonight" when they miss shots. Or "we came in too confident" when they are upset, even though upsets happen all the time in sports, even with the best teams. There is a mental component to sports, yes, but more often than not it's just a matter of did your five guys throw a ball through a hoop better than the other five guys. What's so mental about something that is so physical, so in the moment, like basketball? It's not exactly golf. When you have a split-second to make a decision: a pass, a shot, a box out, it really just comes down to two things: preparation and ability. Those are things that happen before a player even steps on the court. There's luck occasionally too, and I think we forget how much of a role that actually plays in sports.
What I'm really trying to say is: for those of you who are still on the fence, stop hating on this team and their coach. Come join those of us in the world of optimism, and in three years if Bone really doesn't work out and gets fired, at least we can say we didn't waste too many hours of our life on the Internet complaining about him.
And that's tonight's Sports Psychology lecture.
Awards after the jump!
Player of the Game: Brock Motum! One advantage to being an analyst is that when you're wrong about something, you never have to bring it up again. And when you're right, you can gloat about it! I've been campaigning for more minutes for Brock Motum since January, and tonight showed the sort of things he can do when he's at his best: 19 points on 6 of 10 shooting (7 of 9 FTs), 5 rebounds (3 offensive), 1 assist and 2 turnovers. We're awful as a team at offensive rebounding and free throw rate. Guess what Motum does?
Right Hand Man: DeAngelo Casto. 15 points on 5 of 6 shooting, 5 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals, 1 assist, 2 turnovers. ESPN.com called him the 'Top Performer in this game, because ESPN.com hates Australia.
Unsung Hero: Reggie Moore, with 11 points and 5 boards. I really think he doesn't get enough credit for being one of our most selective three-point shooters.
It was over when... Faisal Aden made a free throw with about two seconds left to put the Cougs up 75-71.
Play of the Game: It had to be that thunderous DeAngelo Casto transition dunk that put the Cougs up 61-60 with 4:12 to play. WSU never gave up the lead after that. Shades of The Baynes Train (only a much stronger dunk, and I don't think Casto actually forced his turnover).
Stat of the Game: Even with
Pac-10 Refs California scoring their last eight points at the line, the Cougs still made 23 free throws, while Cal only attempted 17 (and made 13). Look at the graph above for the free throw rate - it's a beautiful sight.