UConn is headed to its 13th consecutive Women’s Final Four — with a chance at a 12th national championship — after a controversial non-call at the end of the Huskies’ 69-67 victory over Baylor on Monday night at the Alamodome.
Trailing 68-67 with 5 seconds left, Baylor guard DiJonai Carrington appeared to be fouled by two Huskies players, Aaliyah Edwards and Olivia Nelson-Ododa, as she went up for a shot. No foul was called, UConn got the ball back and Christyn Williams was fouled. She made one free throw with less than a second left, which accounted for the final score, and the River Walk Region No. 1 seed Huskies had survived behind freshman Paige Bueckers’ 28 points.
But the debate was just getting started.
NBA star LeBron James tweeted, “Cmon, man!!! That was a foul!!” It was a sentiment shared by several WNBA players, including Skylar Diggins-Smith, Kristi Toliver, Amanda Zahui B., Layshia Clarendon and Natasha Cloud. Even UConn coach Geno Auriemma’s daughter Alysa tweeted, “That should have been a foul.”
“What did you see? Then write it like that,” Baylor coach Kim Mulkey said when asked about the non-call. “You don’t need a quote from me. I’ve got still shots and video from two angles. One kid hits her in the face, and one kid hits her on the elbow.”
It wasn’t the first controversial call, or lack thereof, in the women’s basketball tournament this year. Three questionable calls in the final minute went against Troy in its loss to Texas A&M in the first round, a game that could have been the first instance of a No. 15 seed beating a 2-seed in women’s NCAA tournament history.
And it wasn’t the first time Mulkey has been on the losing end of a difficult call in the NCAA tourney. In the 2004 Sweet 16, Baylor was called for foul on a scramble for the ball, sending Tennessee to the foul line with less than a second left in a tied game. The Lady Vols made both free throws for a 71-69 victory.
Asked whether there was anything that could be done about questionable calls, Mulkey sighed.
“It’ll never happen. It doesn’t matter. ‘Oh well, we missed the call,'” she said. “It doesn’t matter what you write. It doesn’t matter what I say. It doesn’t matter what we saw. It doesn’t matter what we think. Life goes on.”
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For his part, Geno Auriemma said there are always questionable calls throughout every game.
Of James’ tweet, Auriemma said, “I probably doubt that in his career he’s ever won a game and decided to give it back because he looked at it and went, ‘That was a foul.'”
“It is what it is,” Auriemma explained. “One time, I asked one of the officials how did Paige end up on the ground with a Baylor player on top of her on a loose ball? He goes, ‘I don’t know.’ That was the answer.
“So you want to go back and check every single call throughout the entire game? And then add them all up and — you don’t. That’s the nature of sports.”
It’s also true that officiating decisions in the final minutes of games always come under more scrutiny because their impact can be so big.
“The bottom line is, the officials did what they’re going to do,” Auriemma said. “If they would have said it was a foul, I’d be on the other end going, ‘You can’t make that call!’
“I’m not going to sit here and apologize for it. If people are going to want to talk about it the rest of the week, you’re welcome to do that. It’s not going to change the outcome. And it’s not going to make me feel bad that you say it was a foul.”
The final call grabbed the headlines, but the turning point in the game came with 2:37 left in the third quarter, when Baylor senior starter DiDi Richards suffered an apparent hamstring injury with the Lady Bears leading 55-45. Richards briefly returned to the game, but she wasn’t moving well and had to go to the bench permanently and be replaced by freshman Sarah Andrews.
UConn took advantage of the absence of Richards, who was the national defensive player of the year last season, to go on a game-changing 19-0 run.
“Obviously, you can never account for injuries happening,” said Carrington, who finished with 22 points. “That was tough for us. Sarah got thrown into the fire. We just tried to weather the storm. We never gave up. We never thought we were out of it.”
And they weren’t. When Williams missed two free throws with 18 seconds left, Baylor got the ball back, down by one, with a chance to win. What happened then, rightly or wrongly, became the story of the night.
“Personally, don’t see it as a controversial call,” Carrington said. “I’ve already seen the replay. One girl fouled me in my face, and one girl fouled me on my arm. At that point, you can’t do anything else.”
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