Wins in the NCAA tournament are tough to get and you could say it’s been even tougher for Houston. As we’ve learned over the last 30+ years, you can’t win if you’re not there. And then you have to fight like hell to secure the win, which we haven’t done in the Dance in 34 years.
UH looked to be cruising to that elusive tourney win with a strong 1st half. The Coogs had a 12-point lead with under 13 to play. That’s when it happened: SDSU made their run.
To win games in March, you’ve got to be able to withstand a run. Because everyone does it. Everyone makes a run in the Tournament.
The Aztec run was a little about them and a lot about the Cougars. Things started to get a little sketchy:
– Shots stopped falling. Houston made just 2 field goals from 15:59 in the second half until Rob Gray’s ice cold trey with 40 seconds left. Credit SDSU for the defense but UH was shooting blanks.
– The Coogs committed too many fouls down the stretch. UH was called for a foul on 7-straight defensive trips. Second-half fouls have plagued us all year.
– In the same 15+ minute time frame that the Cougars made 2 FGs, SDSU made just 3 shots. But the Aztecs scored 13 points at the line in the final 14 minutes to keep themselves in the game.
Despite the poor play, the Cougars never gave up the lead. When Devin Watson hit the three-pointer to tie it with just over a minute to go, it felt like another inevitable Cougar agony. But with 40 seconds to go, we witnessed the birth of the legend of Rob Gray.
Dribbling at the top of the arc, he was no longer the same player that faltered last Sunday. As he pivoted to shoot, he was no longer the same Rob Gray that had gone 1-6 in the last 15 minutes. I’m a former UH athlete, I dreamed about living this moment. I prepared for it. I lived it. But when Rob went straight up over Kell for the 3, he lived it on the biggest stage imaginable. Swish.
To their credit, San Diego State went right down the court and tied the game again. With 31 seconds left, we get the ball to Gray and everyone knows the plan. The game is in Rob Gray’s hands.
And that’s a relief to a shooter like Rob Gray. In that moment, Rob Gray has no conscience. Rob Gray has amnesia. Rob Gray isn’t worried about the past and sees nothing beyond his follow through. Rob Gray damn sure isn’t worried about missing. That’s because Rob Gray is a shooter. Shooters shoot.
There’s no doubt that he’s run this scenario in his head nearly every day of his life.
The entire country watching.
5 seconds left.
Me and the defense.
Drive to the hole.
Over and over and over again.
Right then, there’s only 2 types of people in Rob Gray’s world: me and everyone else. He’s the only one that can paint the pitcture. He’s the only one whose future turns on this moment. Everything in his young life is riding on this possession. This shot. On what he does in his one shining moment. And with everyone watching, and with everyone clinging to the edge of their seats, it happens.
Redemption for last week. Redemption for all the failures. Redemption for all the misses. And redemption for the 34 years since that last NCAA win.
Rob Gray etched his name among the legends of March while cementing his place in Cougar lore. But as he knifed through the San Diego State defense, Rob Gray was at peace within himself. He was just a shooter. Doing what shooters do with the game on the line.