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Remembering Sabatino Chen’s waved off buzzer-beater vs. Arizona

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Did he get the shot off in time?

Where were you on Jan. 3, 2013?

If you’re wondering what the heck I’m talking about, you may need to re-assess your Arizona Wildcats fandom.

Thursday isn’t just the start of Pac-12 play, it’s also the six-year anniversary of one of the most controversial moments in Wildcats history, at least during the Sean Miller era.

Sure, it’s no ‘he touched the ball,’ but when Sabatino Chen launched a three-pointer at the buzzer of a tied game at McKale Center it sparked the kind of debate that, had it occurred nowadays, might have put the Yanni/Laurel one to shame.

Did he get the shot off in time?

In case you don’t remember, here’s how it looked in real-time:

And here’s a slowed-down GIF:

Chen’s banked three would have given the Colorado Buffaloes a win in Tucson, something it hadn’t done since 1960. Instead, the #Pac12refs decided Chen hadn’t fully released the ball when the clock hit 0.0—despite it looking quite a bit like he did—and the game went to overtime, where Arizona outscored the Buffs 12-3 for a 92-83 victory.

That win moved Arizona to 13-0 and helped pace the Wildcats to a second-place finish in the Pac-12 and a Sweet 16 appearance. Colorado fell to 10-3 and ended up starting 1-4 in the league before rebounding to make the NCAA tournament as a No. 10 seed.

I was at that game, not as a member of the media but as a ‘fan,’ having taken advantage of the students being on winter break to secure a pair of tickets behind the north basket, where the shot was taken. It was a birthday present for my stepson, Alex, who had just turned eight, and it was his first college basketball game.

For most of the night, he was not impressed. If not for the nachos and Dippin’ Dots—they are the ice cream of the future, after all—he probably would have wanted to go home at halftime. Maybe he was feeling the woeful vibe going through McKale, where Arizona trailed by 16 with 12:42 left and was down 75-65 with 1:53 remaining.

But once the Wildcats started their comeback the crowd started to get loud. And so did Alex, who began jumping up and down with each roar that accompanied Arizona as it made its final four shots and six of seven free throws, the last by Mark Lyons to tie it at 80 with nine seconds left.

That set the stage for Chen, a senior guard who had never scored more than 10 points in a game for Colorado before erupting for a 15-spot off the bench. He had been 6 of 9 from the field and 2 of 3 on three-pointers before that final shot.

“He looked like Reggie Miller out there tonight,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said afterward.

Not going to lie, I thought it was good. And so did almost everyone else, including Twitter.

But once the officials went to the monitor to confirm … and they stayed there for quite a long time … did the crowd start to think there might be a chance the triple would get taken off the board.

I distinctly remember a woman sitting next to me—standing at this point, as we all were—asking if I thought they’d reverse it. I said it would be really difficult to, though if they did it might have been so they could get out of the arena alive.

If you’ve ever seen how angry some of Arizona’s, ahem, elder fans can get then you understand.

Finally, Chen’s shot was waved off and the game went to OT. That’s when Arizona dominated, outscoring Colorado 9-0 over the final 3:20.

Colorado coach Tad Boyle was so upset after the game he told ESPN.com’s Andy Katz he wanted to “get rid of instant replay.” He hasn’t gotten his wish; instead, now anytime a Colorado-Arizona game involves a review the jokes just write themselves.