When I write about college basketball, it’s usually regarding the ACC. However, something that happened in the Louisville-UConn game last night out of the American Athletic Conference caught my attention.
UConn coach Kevin Ollie was ejected with 13:02 left in the game after an outburst toward the officials after an obviously blown no-call by referee Mike Stewart right in front of the Huskies bench. The no-call was after a lot of contact between UConn’s Niels Giffey and Louisville’s Wayne Blackshear as Giffey went up for a 3-point shot and was knocked over, albeit inadvertently, by Blackshear. Ollie threw his arms up and ran in front of the bench in the direction of Stewart to argue, clearly infuriated by the no-call. Within 8 seconds, he had been assessed 2 technical fouls, which is an automatic ejection.
The pair of technicals gave Louisville 4 free throws and possession, previously leading 47-38. Blackshear missed both of the free throws he took before Russ Smith took the other 2, making them both, making the lead 49-38. On the ensuing Louisville possession, Shabazz Napier of the Huskies committed a “frustration foul”, giving Louisville’s Terry Rozier two more free throws, which he made to make the lead 51-38. Consider if the original foul had been correctly called, and Giffey would have gone to the line for 3. If he were to make all 3, the lead would have been cut to 6, and UConn would have had momentum, because they had plenty before the technicals. The game, which eventually saw Louisville win 76-64, might have been very different had the foul been called correctly.
Before I share my opinion on the situation, here’s how Dan Shulman and Dick Vitale called the incident and its aftermath live on ESPN, starting with the couple of seconds before the no-call:
Shulman: Napier with the ball, and the last 7 Connecticut points–
Vitale: Oh, you’ve got a foul right there.
Both: No call!
Vitale: No call!
Shulman: And Kevin Ollie just got teed up.
Vitale: And he gets a T! Oh my! Don’t compound it! Don’t compound it!
Shulman: And he’s out!
Vitale: He’s definitely compounded! That is absolutely a no-no. He missed the call, right in front of them, the kid got fouled, the coach stood up for his player, and you’re gonna nail him twice, and bang him out of the arena? That is a no-no!
(pause as Ollie begins to walk toward the tunnel to leave the floor)
Vitale: I think Mike Stewart compounded a scenario. Sometimes as a guy in a striped shirt, you’ve gotta really eat the whistle and allow a coach to have a beef. Allow him to have a little beef. He had a right for a beef there, Dan.
Shulman: So two technicals, an ejection, four free throws for Louisville.
(replay begins to play)
Vitale: What’s your feeling? I mean, right there. Look at the contact. You’re gonna tell me you don’t have a right–
Shulman: I agree. You bet.
Vitale: You don’t have a right to fight for your player there? I mean, come on now.
Shulman: That’s a foul, yeah.
Vitale: Come on, come on.
Shulman: That’s a foul.
Vitale: And then you’re gonna compound it by nailing him? He’s fighting for what’s right; his team. Players respect that out of their leader, their coach.
(Later during Smith’s free throws)
Vitale: See, I can understand. Okay, people say well, he got emotional, he got in the ref’s face. But sometimes, you as an official, the good ones, the great ones, they have a comprehension for that, and they know when they really, and maybe, I mean that’s trimmed down as a coach, “Calm down, or I’m gonna get you; calm down, or I’m gonna get you”, but you don’t bang him twice, like, that quickly, when there’s an error on your part.
Shulman: The only thing I can think of that Stewart must have thought is that Giffey leaned into Blackshear to create the contact because you’re entitled Rule of Verticality and all that, but I agree with you, I don’t think there’s any question that that was a foul, and Ollie got teed up twice in a hurry, got run from the game, and now, presumably Glen Miller, the associate head coach, he is taking over. He’s kneeling at the end of the bench right now.
(Play resumes with Napier’s foul)
I have a lot of respect for Dick Vitale, but don’t necessarily agree with him 100% of the time. Here, however, he was absolutely right. Mike Stewart had to know that, due to the contact, any call not favoring Giffey and UConn would be controversial, particularly on the Huskies home floor. As an official, he should anticipate the possibility that the Huskies bench, and particularly Ollie, would be upset over the no-call due to the excessive contact, particularly since it happened right in front of the bench, even if Stewart thought it wasn’t a foul. Instead, he compounded the situation by giving Ollie 2 technicals in 8 seconds, and turning a tense situation into an ugly one, with Ollie’s being ejected and the crowd turning their attention toward the officials.
Stewart needs to acknowledge the fact he is human and will make an occasional mistake as an official. Bad calls (and no-calls) are, after all, part of the game, and Stewart needs to respect that if one is made, particularly against the home team, there may be an argument on the floor and/or boos in the stands. I generally don’t criticize officials for close calls that I don’t agree with, because a lot of things that happen in sports are very tough to see in real time and can be seen incorrectly, even from those on the field. But when there is a blatantly missed call, like this one, I have no sympathy for the criticism the officials face, because they are paid to get the call right. In this case in particular, being a big time college basketball game, the officials working should be good at what they do, getting 99% of calls right, and simply taking the argument from the coach on the floor when they happen to make the occasional mistake.
To Ollie’s credit, after walking towards Stewart for a moment as Stewart walked toward the scorer’s table, he quickly began walking toward the tunnel, which was in the opposite corner of the floor. It took a little bit of directing by an assistant coach, but Ollie didn’t resist, and walked off, stopping only once to turn around and glare briefly at Stewart.
That being said, while I’ve criticized the ejection of Ollie, a single technical foul would have probably been the correct call. Ollie wasn’t able to keep his composure, and ran over toward Stewart immediately after the no-call to argue, even while the ball was still in play (it ended up not mattering that the ball was in play, because the first technical created a dead ball). Perhaps Ollie “said the magic word”, but once the cameras had zoomed in on him, my novice lip-reading couldn’t detect anything more than “Come on, that’s a foul, etc.” There are a few words I can’t detect during the tirade, but they don’t seem to be anything considered to be foul language.
Here is a link to video of the foul and the first few seconds afterward: