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January 4, 2013

Despite errors, Buffs still had shot in regulation

TUCSON, Ariz. - For nearly two minutes, the Colorado Buffaloes had completed one of the most improbable and impressive wins in its basketball program's history.

Sabatino Chen had capped off the game of his life with a buzzer-beating three-point heave that banked off of the backboard and fell through the rim, securing a 83-80 win for the Buffs over No. 3 Arizona.

The game's officials made their way to the monitor to confirm what appeared to be an extremely close but conclusive replay of Chen's shot getting off with under .1-seconds remaining. Tad Boyle and his players stood off to the side of the scorer's table and waited with smiles of jubilation. Arizona huddled around Sean Miller, preparing for the unlikely possibility of overtime.

What happened next no longer needs explaining. Verne Harris ruled the shot as no good and the Wildcats would blitz the Buffs 12-3 in overtime, winning 92-83.

Message boards, Twitter and other social networking venues exploded with justifiable outrage over the ruling and called for the reversal of the game's outcome, giving Colorado the type of signature win that would improve their NCAA Tournament resume and boost them back into the Top 25.

It also brought about two different schools of thought: one where each play or call is exclusive of another and one where basketball is a chain of events, all leading to and having to do with another.

The first school of thought would say that the Buffs' five missed free throws, three fouls and two crucial turnovers in the final two minutes were just a string of errors that CU earned the right to make by gaining a big enough lead that they could still have a chance to win. This would then mean that it was the final ruling of Chen's shot that decided the game.

This school of thought would be correct. Every game has plays that go one way or another, favoring one of the two teams each time. If Nick Johnson doesn't bank in a three-point basket down the stretch, or Solomon Hill isn't allowed to hit a crucial three after being substituted into the game illegally, Arizona isn't in a position to benefit from such a call. But that is basketball and they did happen, leading to a situation that ultimately discounted a legitimate win for the Buffs.

The other school of thought would say that if just two of the five missed free throws, late in the game, were made, the Buffs wouldn't have needed a last-second prayer. It would say that if Askia Booker doesn't panic against the press or foul Lyons on two straight possessions, the Buffs don't leave the outcome of the game to a judgment call by Harris. What if Xavier Johnson hadn't made a crucial defensive mistake, fouling Lyons twenty-five feet from the basket and allowing him to sink the tying free throws?

The reality is that both schools of thought have valid points, bringing up questions regarding how a basketball game should be viewed.

Yes, the Buffs did make those mistakes. Yes, they earned the right to have a cushion and room for error. Neither idea means that they didn't deserve to win and neither excuses their mistakes, deeming them acceptable for a team trying to close out a top-ranked opponent, on the road.

Everything in this case is a valid argument or point or observation. Neither approach changes the reality, that Colorado should be 11-2 heading into Sunday's matchup against Arizona State (and probably ranked).

So with all of that said, where does Tad Boyle go from here? He rightfully voiced his disgust with the ruling, asking for closure from the conference and expressing his distaste with instant replay in college basketball.

His lone senior, Chen, expressed his feelings on Twitter by saying simply, "Ball Don't Lie."

A loss like this would cripple many coaches, players, teams and seasons. Playing a confident group of Sun Devils could trouble many squads coming off of an emotional roller coaster like Thursday night.

Something tells me that this Colorado team is different and it starts with Boyle. He is the prime preacher of not letting a team "beat you twice", a nod towards the tendency of teams to have a hangover game and letting one get away from them.

The team arrived in Tempe on Friday, ready to move on to the next game.

But the fans were not quite there yet, unless you count the new Twitter hashtag of "#valentinesdaymassacre", referencing Arizona's return trip to Boulder on Feburary 14.

Both are right.


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