Whistles in UConn men's basketball's final defeat were not a hoot

Published on Monday, 13 March 2017 23:18
Written by Neill Ostrout

Journal Inquirer

HARTFORD - The final score will forever read Cincinnati 81, UConn 71.

But the real score was: Karl Hess 21, Ron Groover 19, Mike Nance 16.

Because those are the players everyone at the XL Center for Saturday’s American Athletic Conference semifinal came out to see perform, right? No?

Oh, that’s right. Those were the officials.

Game referees aren’t exactly best seen and not heard, but there’s no one that wants to hear them over and over and over again.

That’s what happened Saturday.

Together, the teams were called for a league-record 56 fouls and a record 71 free throw attempts.

UConn’s first losing season in 30 years didn’t end with a whimper, but with a whistle.

Cincinnati prevailed despite making just 23.8 percent of its shots in the second half. That’s because it also connected on 28 of its 31 free throw attempts after halftime alone.

The game had no flow because it was stifled constantly.

“I think we did the best that we could as far as the foul trouble and the different things of that nature,” said UConn guard Rodney Purvis, one of two Huskies to foul out. “Of course, I can sit up here and say I felt that we played good defense, and somehow we fouled, so I don’t know.”

We all know there are officials in basketball who crave the camera and other attention more than most players. Hess certainly fits that mold.

Nationally, Hess is best known for two incidents: kicking former N.C. State stars Tom Gugliotta and Chris Corchiani out of an arena in 2012 for badgering him about calls in a game against Florida State; and making an inappropriate comment to a Wake Forest booster during a 2015 game against Louisville.

Hess is perhaps best remembered by UConn fans for once lining the teams up in the wrong direction to start overtime _ an allowing a basket to be scored on the wrong hoop before noticing - in a game the Huskies ultimately lost.

But it’s not fair to single out Hess. This was collaborative effort to call things super tight.

Cincinnati would beat UConn eight or nine times out of 10 this season. The Bearcats proved to be the better team on Saturday just as they had in the previous two meetings.

Let’s be clear: UConn did not get robbed of a victory by the officials. We will never know for sure how the game would have played out if it had been called a different way, but it’s likely the Huskies lose anyway.

The men in striped shirts weren’t being biased, just intent on making a point. Or perhaps making it about themselves.

Yes, one or two calls that could have gone either way went against the Huskies, but that’s normal and understandable. They just wanted to call fouls at nearly every opportunity, no matter which team it was on, when it seemed there were plenty of times when it seemed unnecessary.

Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin knew the fans in the stands were upset with the officials. He was perhaps looking for a fight of sorts in the postgame press conference when I asked guard Troy Caupain about the nature of the game.

“Are you trying to insinuate that UConn got cheated?” Cronin interrupted before Caupain could respond.

Clearly, I was not, but Cronin was itching for a little verbal fight. I refused to take the bait.

The physical play on Saturday obviously touched a nerve with Cronin, who cited his personal coaching history in explaining his views.

“You’re talking to a guy that was part of a horrible incident a long time ago where stuff was not called and stuff escalated,” Cronin said, referring to fight between the teams at Cincinnati and Xavier after a game in December of 2011. “And it was a terrible, terrible scene for two great universities.

“That stuff needs to be called. Any foul needs to be called. If it’s a foul, it’s a foul.”

There’s no mistaking that Saturday’s game was a physical, contentious one.

As upset as he was during the game, UConn coach Kevin Ollie didn’t lash out after the game at any perceived mistakes by the officiating crew.

“I guess the refs did the best job that they possibly can, you know?” Ollie said. “You see 46 free throws, 31 free throws in one half, so I don’t know if a lot of people were watching that game.”

“Sometimes those guys get paid a lot of money and both teams play zone and nobody touches each other. Then they go to dinner,” Cronin said of the officials. “So today they had to earn their money.”

Perhaps they did, and got plenty of camera time to boot.

Posted in New Britain Herald, General Sports, UConn on Monday, 13 March 2017 23:18. Updated: Monday, 13 March 2017 23:20.