Basketball officials are out of control. Stanford’s overtime win on Saturday in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, after the first-half ejection of coach Trent Johnson, was the latest example that they don’t understand this simple dictum: They’re not supposed to be the show.
This was even worse than the bad calls that gave UCLA wins over Stanford and Cal in the last week of the Pac-10 season and USC a win over Arizona State in the conference tournament. That was simply incompetence, and those of us who watch Pac-10 sports know that’s the standard, both in basketball and football.
Saturday’s game, though, was a referee showing the coach who was boss, to the detriment of the game.
Referee Curtis Shaw “explained” Johnson’s ejection by saying the coach had come out onto the floor when no timeout had been called, which got him his second technical. But Shaw evaded the real question: Why was Johnson flagged (by David Hall) for the first “T”? I know Trent Johnson and I know he isn’t an abusive person, so I’m certain he was assertive but not abusive in his protest. So, coaches aren’t allowed to dispute a call?
If anything, coaches should be allowed more leeway in a tournament game. In the past, they have been. This was the first time a coach had been ejected in a tournament game since 2003.
And, by the way, this was the first time Johnson has ever been ejected from a game. Nice timing, guys.
Though it got overlooked, the officials made another call that had a serious impact on Stanford’s chances, calling Robin Lopez for a technical for jawing with a Marquette player after he was fouled on a second-half play. That gave Lopez three fouls and sent him to the bench for a time.
Announcer Dick Enberg commented first that officials were trying to keep players from getting out of control, then added, “but the officials are out of control themselves.” Said analyst Jay Bilas: “If I were out there, I wouldn’t say a word to these officials. They really have a hair trigger.”
Once again, I say the officials should never be the focus of a game and that applies even more when the stakes are this high.
Johnson’s ejection momentarily put the Cardinal in a hole. Stanford was leading by a point at the time, but Wesley Mathews converted four straight free throws, two of them for the technicals, and Marquette quickly built an 11-point lead.
But coaching is more than just game-time strategy. Johnson has built a team that battles through adversity, and the Cardinal rallied to cut the Marquette lead to six at the half and finally won it in overtime on a shot by, of course, Brook Lopez.
That puts the Cardinal into the Sweet 16 against Texas, another tough matchup because the Longhorns have good 3-point shooters. Against Marquette, Stanford stayed in a zone defense for most of the first half to cut off penetration by the much-quicker Marquette guards, who are not good outside shooters. They won’t have that luxury against Texas and, once again, it will be the Lopez twins battling against a better-balanced team.
Let’s hope this time the officials will let the players play and coaches coach. Just look in the mirror, guys, and repeat after me: Nobody pays to see us.