Were the Referees in the Arizona Game Influenced by the Crowd?

Casey Sapio-USA Today Sports

Casey Sapio-USA Today Sports

The No. 3 Arizona Wildcats hosted the 10-2 Colorado Buffaloes Thursday night in Tucson, Ariz. in front of 14,000-plus Wildcat fans and a handful of loyal Buffalo fans.

For those that weren’t in attendance Thursday night or haven’t been to a game at McKale Center, the crowd is raucous and, at times, downright obnoxious.

Much like any of the cities in the SEC where the college team is the only game in town, Tucson is home to a very proud tradition and just like any spoiled 16-year-old girl, they expect things to go their way and will whine relentlessly until they get it.

Such was the case in last night’s basketball thriller. Arizona played their worst half of basketball in recent memory, shooting a miserable 25.9 percent from the field for a season-low 27 first-half points. Conversely, Colorado was putting the hammer down nailing 6-of-9 from three-point territory and led by as much 17 with 4:30 left in the first half.

millerWhenever Arizona scratched and clawed its way back into the game, it seems that Colorado had an answer. The Wildcats ended the first half only down by seven and Colorado scored the first seven points of the second half once again quieting the crowd.

The Buffaloes lead swelled to as many as 16 points on several occasions in the second half and was at 10 with under two minutes to play.

Flashing back to games against Florida and San Diego State when they trailed in the final minutes, the Wildcats punched it into overdrive. Senior point guard Mark Lyons scored eight points in the final minutes while Solomon Hill hit a clutch three-pointer that sent the crowd into a mad frenzy.

It was loud, it was crazy and the Wildcat faithful would not be denied another victory. To add insult to injury and raise the fans’ ire to a fever pitch, Grant Jerrett was called with a questionable foul and I thought the fans were going to attack. The atmosphere was akin to a lynch mob and I felt a little uneasy as the crowd was out for blood.

Colorado’s Jeremy Adams went to miss both free throws and the Buffaloes squandered their 10-point lead hitting only 1-of-6 free throws in the final two minutes.

Kevin Parrom grabbed the rebound from the errant free throw attempt and passed to Mark Lyons, who drove down the court and was fouled by Colorado freshman Xavier Johnson. When Lyons hit both free throws and tied the score for the first time since early in the first half, I thought the roof was going to come off the building.

CU Buzzer1With nine seconds remaining, the Buffaloes brought the ball in, they were calm, cool and collected in a vicious arena and did what they needed to do. Colorado senior guard, Sabatino Chen pulled up and nailed a dagger into the crowd with a three-point basket as the clock expired. Or did he?

I could see the flames coming out of the ears of the Wildcat fans and ducked down in my seat a little to avoid any thrown objects that might make their way toward the court.

When the public address announcer said that the final play was under further review in accordance with NCAA playing regulations, I thought that the crowd couldn’t get any louder, until it did. The replay on the overhead scoreboard clearly showed that the ball was released with .1 second remaining on the backboard clock, but there was no containing this over-enthusiastic crowd that saw the same replay that I did and demanded that the call be overturned—and it was.

Presumably fearing for their safety, game officials Verne Harris, James Breeding and Randy McCall all agreed that the ball was still on Chen’s fingertips when the game clock reached triple zeroes.

I have seen and covered many games in my lifetime from college to pro, hockey to baseball and this was in line with the controversial Packers/Seahawks NFL game—except these were not replacement refs.



After the game, Colorado coach Tad Boyle had this to say to the media outside the visitors’ locker room: “No comment.”

But I could see the anger behind his facade and he then went on to say: “If it’s the wrong call, I’m really, really sick to my stomach because we had guys in this locker room that deserved to win that game.”

Boyle said later on the phone to ESPN.com:

Get rid of instant replay. In basketball, football, human error is part of our game. If human error is part of the game, let the officials call the game. Players, coaches and officials will make mistakes. It’s part of the game. We spend all this money on replays and we still can’t get it right. Get rid of it.


Pac-12 coordinator of officials Ed Rush had the following to say supporting the call:

Game officials reviewed video replays of the end of regulation in accordance with NCAA playing rules and determined the ball was still on the shooters’ fingertips when the official game clock on the floor expired. Per Conference protocol, the officials conducted a thorough review court side and viewed multiple angles of the play before confirming the ruling. I have reviewed the video replays and agree with the ruling.

Arizona coach Sean Miller, in the postgame press conference, had little to say about the shot other than: “We would have gotten what we deserved if we had lost.”

It’s evident that Miller would have been able to accept the consequences, but there is no way that the fans and the city of Tucson would accept it.

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