'The Shot' that catapulted Colorado basketball's Sabatino Chen into popularity
Three-point shooting has never been Sabatino Chen’s forte.
Not in high school, and certainly not in college. Well, except for when Chen played Arizona on Jan. 3 in McKale Center. Arizona (20-3, 8-3 Pac-12) will face Colorado (16-7, 6-5) again tonight at 8 p.m.
“In high school I was a drive-first guy,” said Chen, Colorado’s lone senior, in a Wednesday phone interview with the Daily Wildcat. “I could get away with that more, just driving to the basket.”
Before the Buffs’ Pac-12-opening matchup with the No. 9 Wildcats last month, Chen was shooting 2-of-12 (16.7 percent) from beyond the arc and 11-of-45 (24.4 percent) in his college career with CU and the University of Denver.
Colorado senior Sabatino Chen wasn't very well known before the Buffs faced Arizona on Jan. 3. But, after a controversial call reversed his last-second shot, Colorado lost in overtime. / Photo courtesy of the University of Colorado Athletic Department
On a team with Andre Roberson, Spencer Dinwiddie and Josh Scott, players with NBA aspirations, it’s easy to overlook Chen.
At least, it was until “The Shot.”
Against the then-No.3 undefeated Wildcats, Chen was having the game of his life and for most of it, the Buffs were rolling.
“I was just relaxed,” Chen said. “I hit my first couple shots and I felt good after that. With a big lead, you feel confident.”
In the first half, Colorado led by as many as 17 points and by more than 10 for most of the game.
Then, in a 10 minute, 32 second span in the second half starting at the 14:45 mark, Chen contributed 13 points, two 3-pointers and one assist. The Buffs had a 10-point lead.
“He looked like Reggie Miller tonight,” Miller said after the game.
Then the Wildcats pulled a Reggie Miller circa 1995 against the Knicks, came all the way back and knotted it up at 80 on two free throws with 10 seconds remaining.
This gave Colorado one last shot.
The final play was designed for guard Askia Booker, the Buffs’ leading 3-point shooter.
But he was covered, and Chen had the ball.
“There was like three seconds when I looked at the clock,” Chen said, “so I just made a move to get the shot up and it banked in.”
Colorado won, and its bench cleared in celebration, running to Chen near center court by press row and embracing him like a baseball team would after a walk-off home run.
It was Chen’s third 3-pointer and 18th point.
And then it wasn’t. Upon further review, the refs reversed the call and Colorado never recovered, getting outscored 12-3 in overtime.
“It was just a strange feeling,” Chen said, “because I had thought for sure we had won the game. Even after the game it still didn’t feel like we really lost, but a loss is on our record.”
As were three more losses in the next four games.
Still, the controversial call helped Chen gain some Twitter-trending notoriety. He went from an afterthought to a national focus.
In the days after the game, Chen said he conducted six to eight interviews focusing on the Arizona game.
“It got a lot of national attention, probably more than if I would have made the shot,” Chen said, with a laugh.
“He became a household name pretty quickly,” Colorado head coach Tad Boyle added.
The Buffs are on a roll of late, winning four of their last five games to get back into NCAA tournament contention, and Chen’s been a factor, averaging 5.2 points, 2.4 rebounds, 1.6 steals and 1.0 threes per game in that span. Not flashy stats, but solid nonetheless.
Chen credits the 15 point, 6-of-10 shooting effort against the Wildcats for building up the confidence he’s played with since then, and Boyle agrees.
“When you’ve got a guy who’s not been a big scorer or great shooter and you see them in practice showing those capabilities,” Boyle said, “you’re waiting for that game where they break out and they make some shots.
“For Sabatino it was the Arizona game.”