Blown call radically altered South Carolina-UConn endgame

Zia Cooke is heavily-defended by the Huskies. NCAA photo.

South Carolina defeated UConn last Sunday, 81-77. That is a historical fact. It was one of the most-watched televised games in NCAA history. And it was riveting basketball, unlike some past “marquee” matchups.

But the continuing saga of poor officiating in the women’s game robbed the endgame of much more exciting possibilities than the Huskies-forced-to-foul conclusion we witnessed.

Here is the situation:

The game: The No. 1 Gamecocks are playing on the road at No. 4 UConn.

Time remaining: 0:46.2, fourth quarter

Score: South Carolina 75, UConn 72

Situation: Gamecocks called timeout to advance the ball. Raven Johnson to inbound from the bench sideline.

Action: With a five-second call imminent, Zia Cooke cuts to the sideline. Johnson hands her the ball. [Note: replays make it clear that this is what happened. The Fox Sports announcers also saw it immediately.]

Referees: no call.

Action: 2.4 seconds run off the clock. UConn’s Nika Muhl commits her fourth foul on Cooke, who is holding the ball on the sideline. Cooke makes two free-throws, making the score 77-72, a two possession game.

NCAA Women’s Basketball Rules:

Rule 7: Out of Bounds and the Throw In

Art. 2. The ball shall be out of bounds when it touches a player who is out of bounds . . . .

Rule 9: Violations and Penalties

Section 3, Art. 2. After the throw-in is completed, the thrower-in must touch the playing court inbounds before touching the ball.

PENALTY (Sections 2-5): The ball shall become dead or remain dead when a violation occurs. . . .The ball shall be awarded to an opponent for a throw-in at a designated spot nearest to where the violation occurred.

What should have happened: Violation, out-of-bounds. Cooke is holding the ball in bounds while it is touching Johnson out-of-bounds, so both Cooke and the ball are out-of-bounds. Possession should go to UConn. Cooke does not shoot free throws.

The effect: Husky Aaliyah Edwards scored on the next possession, with 35 seconds remaining (not including the 2.4 seconds lost on the inbound play). The score would have been 75-74.

UConn would not have had to foul, with 37.4 seconds remaining. OR, they could have chosen to foul, with a maximum score of 77-74, a one-possession game, with lots of time remaining.

What did happen: Muhl had to foul to stop the clock, fouling out. On the next defensive possession, Lou Lopez-Senechal had to foul to stop the clock, fouling out. South Carolina missed four of eight free throws following Cooke’s two makes that she should not have taken.

Clearly, what should have been an obvious call completely changed how the game progressed in the last minute. It seriously hampered the Huskies’ possibility of pulling out a victory.

This was not a judgment call like “was it a foul?” It was a clear rules violation, happening within two feet of a referee.

Sadly, the call was not reviewable. Out-of-bounds is only reviewable only if “a ruling of an out-of-bounds violation was made by the officials. Rule 11, Replay, Section 3, Article 2 c.

The Gamecocks were leading, and odds are that they still would have won the game. But, maybe, just maybe UConn would have won or tied it. What if the Huskies two starting guards had still been in action for those final possessions?

Wouldn’t we have rather watched that game?