You live with it, that’s what you do. That is the only strategy for everyone involved in the controversial call that ended the Auburn-Virginia national semifinal Saturday night and changed the whole course of the Final Four.
Samir Doughty, the Auburn player called for the foul that his team does not feel he deserved, will have to live with it. So will James Breeding, the Big East official who blew the whistle with six-tenths of a second left in a game that was remarkably light on fouls. So will Virginia, which knows it is very fortunate to be playing Texas Tech for the NCAA championship Monday night.
Basically, it boiled down to a question between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. In an age when every millisecond of video is instantly available to everyone everywhere, you wonder if there still is such a thing as spirit of the law. What referee wants to be shown on an endless loop, overlooking Rule 4, Section 39.i?
That was the chapter and verse cited in a statement by J.D. Collins, national coordinator of officiating, less than an hour after Virginia’s Kyle Guy made three free throws that gave his team a stunning 63-62 victory. Collins invoked the term “verticality” and the fact it is “a legal position” while expounding on contact outside and inside “the opponent’s vertical plane.”
Never mind that plain sight showed all kinds of contact being permitted throughout the game, bumps and pushes that were much more severe than the one Doughty committed (and never mind that Virginia made out like a bandit on Ty Jerome’s apparent double dribble that wasn’t called seconds earlier).
And the heck with the conventional wisdom with which we all have grown up: That to get called for a foul on a desperation shot at the buzzer, you better have knocked the guy into the third row. Everyone just has to live with it, starting with Auburn players who might never get this close to an NCAA title again.
Doughty didn’t think it was a foul. But at his locker stall afterward, he diplomatically said, “The referees don’t try to tell me how to put a basketball in the hole, so I’m not going to tell them how to make the right or wrong call.”
“Pure class,” Guy said before Virginia’s practice Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, a workout that Auburn arguably should have been holding.
The Cavaliers guard added that he made a point of breaking out of the group hug after the game so he could shake hands with Doughty and other Auburn players.
“They have every right to be upset and I feel for them. Nobody wants to go out like that,” said Guy, who appreciates sportsmanship when he sees it. He had to exhibit it ever since March 2018, when Virginia became the first No. 1 seed ever to lose to a No. 16 seed. He believes the way the Cavaliers handled it helped them get as far as they have this year.
“How I carried my things, he’s going to carry that,” he said of Doughty. “We’ve been in that position, heartbreak. I would tell them to use this and because they’ve been through this, they’re going to go somewhere they never would have been.”
People won’t forget the whole episode, which probably was the most controversial late-game call in a Final Four game since Hall of Fame referee John Clougherty whistled a foul on Seton Hall with four seconds left in overtime, sending Michigan to victory in the 1989 title game. Clougherty told the News and Observer in Raleigh that his wife turned to him while they watched the game Saturday night and told him he’s off the hook.
End-game drama represents a lot of what makes March Madness so appealing. End-game calls that seem to come out of the blue are what can make it so maddening to watch sometimes.