From Comcast SportsNetPASADENA, Calif. (AP) -- Shayne Skov and Zach Ertz believe every game in Stanford's improbable football renaissance led the Cardinal to midfield at the Rose Bowl.That's where Usua Amanam made the interception that stopped Wisconsin's final drive with 2:30 to play in a grind-it-out game. That's where Kevin Hogan grinned broadly as he took the final snap on Stanford's first Rose Bowl victory in 40 years.And it's the spot where the once-struggling team from a school better known for brains than brawn raised the West Coast's most coveted trophy after a 20-14 victory over the Badgers on Tuesday night."There's a sense of accomplishment, because we got somewhere we hadn't been yet," said Skov, who made eight tackles while leading Stanford's second-half shutout. "If you looked at our goals at the beginning of the season, this was on top of the list, and we got it done. We're extremely satisfied."Stepfan Taylor rushed for 89 yards and an early touchdown, while Hogan passed for 123 yards, but Stanford (12-2) won the 99th Rose Bowl with a shutdown effort by its defense. Although Stanford didn't score many style points against the Badgers, the Cardinal could celebrate because they didn't let Wisconsin score any points at all after halftime, holding the Badgers to 82 yards.After winning the Orange Bowl two years ago and losing the Fiesta Bowl in overtime last season, Stanford earned its first conference title and its first trip to the Granddaddy of Them All in 13 years, which is what most Pac-12 players really want."We've been in BCS games the past two years, but neither of those mean as much as this one did," said Ertz, the tight end who had three catches for 61 yards. "This is the one we play for every year. It shows Stanford is here to stay."The Cardinal finished with 12 victories for just the second time in school history -- and the second time in the last three years during this surge begun by Andrew Luck and coach Jim Harbaugh. Many Pac-12 observers expected a sharp decline at Stanford this season, but coach David Shaw and Hogan achieved something even Harbaugh and Luck couldn't manage."We knew this was going to be a battle, and we wouldn't expect it any other way," Shaw said. "We know it's going to be tight, it's going to be close, and we're going to find a way to win. That's the way it's been all year."Stanford clamped down on the Big Ten champion Badgers (8-6), who lost the Rose Bowl in heartbreaking fashion for the third consecutive season. Montee Ball rushed for 100 yards and his FBS-record 83rd touchdown, but Wisconsin managed only four first downs in that scoreless second half.With impressive defense of its own, Wisconsin still stayed in position for an upset in the one-game return of Hall of Fame coach Barry Alvarez, who was back on the Badgers' sideline in his red sweater-vest seven years after hanging up his whistle."This group of kids has been through a lot, and they competed extremely hard against a very high-quality team," said Alvarez, who nearly pulled off a stunner while bridging the gap between coaches Bret Bielema and Gary Andersen. "We've played three very good football games (at the Rose Bowl). These guys played hard. In fact, most people would like to get here once. But we just didn't get it done."Kelsey Young took his only carry 16 yards for a score on Stanford's opening possession, and Taylor scored on the second drive after a big catch by Ertz. Wisconsin kept the Cardinal out of the end zone for the final 51 minutes, holding them to three points in the second half, but Stanford's defense didn't need any more help in the Cardinal's eighth straight victory.When Bielema abruptly left Wisconsin for Arkansas after winning the Big Ten title game, Alvarez agreed to coach his fourth Rose Bowl before handing off his program to Andersen, who met with Alvarez on the field before the game. But the Badgers' third consecutive January in Pasadena ended in much the same way as the last two: With the offense failing to get the late score the Badgers desperately needed."This stings just as much, because we fell extremely short when we had the opportunity to win," Ball said. "We had numerous opportunities to capitalize on big plays, and we fell short. ... This is not the way we want to be remembered. Speaking for the entire senior group, this is not the way we wanted to go out."Curt Phillips went 10 for 16 for 83 yards passing and that crucial interception for Wisconsin, doing more with 64 yards on the ground. Jordan Fredrick caught his first career TD pass right before halftime, but no Badgers receiver had more than Jared Abbrederis' three catches.And though Ball became the first player to score touchdowns in three Rose Bowls, the powerful back fell short of Ron Dayne's career Rose Bowl rushing record, swarmed under by waves of tacklers from one of the toughest defenses in the nation -- a defense that shut down the top-ranked Ducks in mid-November to pave Stanford's path to Pasadena."They're a good football team, but we have a very good defense," Ertz said. "They stopped Oregon when no one said it could be done. That shows the unity we have on this team. We're never going to quit."Wisconsin was the first five-loss team to make it to Pasadena, losing three overtime games and making the Big Ten title game only because Ohio State and Penn State were ineligible. The Badgers then steamrolled Nebraska to become the first Big Ten team in three straight Rose Bowls since Michigan in the late 1970s.With the Rose Bowl filled with fans wearing the schools' near-identical cardinal-and-white gear, Stanford went up 14-0 on Taylor's 3-yard TD run just 8 minutes in. Wisconsin briefly got rolling behind Ball, who rushed for 296 yards in his first two Rose Bowls.Stanford stopped James White inside the 1 on fourth down early in the second quarter after a touchdown run by Ball was wiped out by a holding penalty, but Ball scored on the next drive. The Badgers then mounted an 85-yard drive in the waning 2 minutes of the first half, with Phillips' 38-yard run setting up Fredrick's short TD catch to trim Stanford's halftime lead to 17-14.After halftime adjustments, both defenses dominated the scoreless third quarter, allowing just three combined first downs.Wisconsin's personal foul on a fair-catch punt return finally sparked the Cardinal early in the fourth quarter. Stanford got inside the Wisconsin 5 before stalling, and Jordan Williamson's short field goal put the Cardinal up by six points with 4:23 to go.The Badgers got to midfield, but Phillips threw behind Jacob Pedersen, and Amanam easily made the pick."I just happened to be at the right place at the right time," Amanam said. "We were able to kind of seal the game on that one."
The 2011 Eastern Conference Finals between the Bulls and Miami Heat featured three future Hall of Famers in LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. Derrick Rose had been named the youngest league MVP in league history weeks earlier. Luol Deng was blossoming and would earn All-Star nods in each of the following two seasons. $82 million man Carlos Boozer had averaged 17.5 points and 9.6 rebounds in his first season with the Bulls. The series was loaded with star power.
But buried deep in that series was a matchup of unsung reserves that influenced the series far greater than their numbers in the box score indicated. Udonis Haslem averaged just 4.6 points and 4.6 rebounds in 22 minutes in the series – the Heat won in five games – but his impact was felt nonetheless, in part because of the physicality he brought against an energetic second-year forward named Taj Gibson.
“When we played them in the Eastern Conference Finals, Gibson had an incredible impact on that series, and (Haslem) was just coming back from an injury,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said before Saturday’s tilt between the Bulls and Heat. “And we thought that was probably the missing component in that series early on, was having a player like UD to match up against (Gibson). And that really helped us close that series.”
Five years later Haslem is on the final leg of his NBA career. He’s only appeared sparingly in seven games for the Heat in this his 14th NBA season. But the two-time NBA champion has had a lasting impact on the Heat organization – so much so that they allowed him to miss Friday’s game to attend his son’s state-title football game in Florida – and has etched himself in Heat lore, despite never averaging more than 12 points or nine rebounds in a season.
It’s not unlike the career path Gibson has taken in his eight seasons in Chicago. The now-31-year-old Gibson has spent the majority of his career playing behind the likes of Carlos Boozer, Pau Gasol and Joakim Noah. And while he’s been an integral part of the Bulls’ rotation since joining the team in 2009, his role has never matched his ability or production. It’s why Haslem said he sees so much of himself in Gibson, an unselfish, care-free teammate, yet also someone who is willing to work every day despite the lack of accolades.
“Taj plays hard, man. He’s a guy that gets all the dirty work done. The banging down in the paint, he knocks down that 15-footer, (he) rebounds,” Haslem told CSNChicago.com. “A lot of similarities to myself when I was a little younger. Like you said, unsung. Doesn’t look for any attention, doesn’t look for any glory. Just goes out there, is professional, and does his job every night.”
And in his eighth NBA season, Gibson has done his job every night incredibly well. Through 23 games he’s posted career-best numbers in field goal percentage, rebounds, assists and steals, and isn’t far off in points and blocks per game. His 16.9 PER would be a career-high.
He’s done all this with little real estate in the spotlight. Jimmy Butler has cemented himself as a legitimate MVP candidate, and free-agent acquisitions Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo have earned headlines.
But Gibson has been as reliable and consistent a frontcourt player as the Bulls have – he’s one of three players to have appeared in all 23 games this season – and he’s playing some of his best basketball while the Bulls are mired in a mini-slump.
“He’s a rock for us on this team,” Fred Hoiberg said. “He’s going to go out and do his job. He’s never going to complain about his role. He’s going to put on his hard hat and make the little plays that may not show up in the box score, but help you win.”
Including Gibson’s 13-point, seven-rebound effort in Saturday’s win over the Heat, he’s averaging 12.6 points on 58 percent shooting and 7.3 rebounds in the Bulls’ last 11 games. He’s corralled 16 offensive rebounds in that span – including two on Saturday that he put back for layups – and is the main reason the Bulls entered as the league’s top offensive rebounding team in the league (and second in total rebound percentage). The Bulls are also nearly six points per 100 possessions better defensively with Gibson on the floor.
Gibson’s and Haslem’s career numbers are eerily similar – Gibson has averaged 9.3 points on 49 percent shooting and 6.4 rebounds, compared to Haslem’s 7.9 points on 49 percent shooting and 7.0 rebounds, with this year excluded. And both players accomplished their numbers while acting as the third scoring option, at best, on their respective teams. Wade, who spent 13 seasons with Haslem, also sees similarities in the two forward’s games and personalities.
“Taj does his job. He doesn’t try to do too much. Some nights he’s featured a lot. Some nights he’s not. He’s out there to do his job, wants to win,” he said. “(Haslem and Gibson) are very similar. He has that mentality where he’s a workhorse and he’s going to do whatever it takes.”
Added Spoelstra: “Incredible amount of similar qualities. In my mind both those guys are winning players and have all the intangibles and toughness. Doing the little things, the dirty work, both those guys embody all those qualities. We’ve always respected Gibson because of that.”
Gibson is third on the Bulls in field goal attempts per game, the first time in his career he’s been higher than fifth in that category. The Bulls are using him more than ever before, and it’s paying off. He's in the final year of his four-year contract with the Bulls, and is looking at a significant pay raise in free agency this coming summer. Whether his future is in Chicago or elsewhere, don’t expect him to change his persona or mentality anytime soon. Much like Haslem did for years in Miami, Gibson has defined being a consummate professional, teammate and player.
“When you’re on championship teams, competing for a championship, trying to go deep in the playoffs, trying to do special things, guys are doing to have to sacrifice their game. Everybody can’t play big minutes; everybody can’t take the shots,” he said after the Bulls’ win over the Cavs on Thursday. “I’m one of the guys that sacrificed my game for the good of the team. Whatever the coach wants me to do, I’m going to go out and do (it).
“If a coach wants me to set 100 screens and not take a shot, I’m gonna do that because I’m about helping the team. And that’s what I’ve been doing all these years. As long as I’m out there enjoying myself, having fun and playing with great teammates, I’m blessed.”