The Pac-10 referees have developed quite the reputation up and down the West Coast for what can only be described as inconsistent refereeing.
On Saturday night, they put their talents on display in front of a national audience on ESPN and thoroughly embarrassed themselves yet again.
What was a thrilling basketball game between two likely tournament-bound teams with the Pac-10 title on the line was ruined by awful officiating. The University of Washington Huskies visited 13th-ranked University of Arizona in a game in which the Wildcats sought revenge for their previous loss at UW.
The game featured several great plays from Arizona's Derrick Williams (26 points, 11 rebounds) and Washington's Isaiah Thomas (12 points, 10 assists) among others, but unfortunately, the game was ultimately determined by the refs' calls.
Arizona, fueled by a raucous home crowd, had lead by as many as 12 early in the second half, but Washington clawed back with increased defensive intensity and Thomas' distribution of the ball. They even took a four-point lead with 7:59 left in the game.
The wild finish was fueled by complete inconsistency regarding when to, and when not to, blow the whistle. The distinction between blocks and charges seemed to be made on the basis of a coin flip. Players were assigned fouls despite being cemented to the ground, straight up in the air.
The most obvious blown call was likely a critical missed goaltending on Kyryl Natyazhko's tip-in late in the second half. Not only was the ball still in the cylinder, replays showed that it was actually resting on the rim of the basket when Natyazhko's fingers poked it home.
These gifted two points may not have mattered if the referees had handled the last play of the game correctly.
With Arizona up one point with 2.2 seconds left, and Washington inbounding the ball under their offensive hoop, the pass went into Darnell Gant. He caught it, turned, and threw up a hook shot that had clearly started its decent before Derrick Williams rose and spiked it out of bounds.
After completing the "block," Williams turned around and looked at the official, expecting to be called for goaltending, but no call came. He later said of the play, "I just tapped it perfectly and luckily they didn't call goaltending. I believe if we were at Washington they might have called it goaltending, but good thing we were at home."
To Husky fans, the play was scarily reminiscent of a block in overtime of the 2006 Sweet 16 game against the University of Connecticut. What would have been a go-ahead layup by Brandon Roy with 42 seconds left in overtime, was instead deemed a clean block, and UConn went on to eliminate the Huskies in what was a crushing defeat.
On Saturday evening in Tucson, as the roars from the crowd filled the space vacated by the absent whistle, the ball landed out of bounds with somewhere between 0.4 and 0.6 seconds left to play.
Despite reviewing the previous play to correct the time on the clock, the referees didn't even look at the review of this play, and only gave the Huskies an inaccurate and inadequate 0.2 seconds to get a tip-off at the buzzer.
While it is understandable to stop the clock a few fractions of a second late, it is inconceivable that after just reviewing a very similar play, the referees didn't deem it necessary to do so again at such a critical point in the game. Needless to say, the 0.2 seconds were futile, and Arizona went on to win the game.
Maybe it was the sea of white the Arizona fans flaunted that blinded the referees' eyes. Maybe it was the all-too-good to resist story line of the All-American candidate Williams saving his team at the buzzer.
Maybe it was the refs' plain and utter incompetency, as any attuned Pac-10 basketball fan would be inclined to agree. But whatever it was, it sure wasn't justice to the University of Washington Huskies.
They now find themselves on the bubble of the NCAA Tournament. A road victory over Arizona would have likely been a signature win in the eyes of the selection committee, effectively stamping their ticket to the Big Dance, but instead they could find themselves playing in the NIT come March.
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