I’m not here to troll. That game was just so bonkers I had to jot down some thoughts.
Did Auburn get screwed? Short answer: Yes. Longer answer below.
I would not have said yes if it was just about the foul on the three-point shot. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred the ref will eat the whistle in situations like that, so it was a surprise to see the foul called. But, it was a foul. I mean, it was a foul in the sense that you might expect the video of it to appear in a refereeing seminar to explain what a foul looks like. It was a textbook foul.
No, the screwage happened earlier, when the refs failed to call the double-dribble by the Virginia player who bounced the ball off his own foot. I didn’t even think about it at the time, and apparently I wasn’t the only one, because nobody said anything about it until well after the game. But when they analyzed that play, the dribbler clearly picked up the ball with both hands and then started dribbling again, which, going back to that textbook again, is a double-dribble. A turnover there would probably have given the game to Auburn.
There are no words to express my respect for that Virginia player who hit the winning free throws.
That kid is the King of All Ballers. I cannot imagine the pants-filling terror of standing on the free throw line in that situation, with not just your season at stake but with the very eyes of sports history staring down on you.
Standing in my living room (because I was definitely standing by this time) in a remote corner of Birmingham, Alabama, I was literally trembling with vicarious fear for the kid. And he absolutely buried all three right in the bottom of the sack. If I ever have a delicate and risky surgical procedure, I want him to do it, I don’t care if he becomes a doctor or not.
Bruce Pearl is pretty good at coaching basketball.
He beat the fastest team in the tournament (North Carolina) and, miracle ending notwithstanding, was in a position to beat the slowest team in the tournament (Virginia). When people say about a basketball team, “That team could play with anybody,” that’s the kind of thing they’re talking about.
This is the kind of loss that could forever cast a shadow on Auburn’s accomplishment, but it shouldn’t.
The ending of this game is the kind of thing that will be talked about as long as there is an NCAA basketball tournament. It’ll be easy to remember the dangerously high levels of March Madness exhibited here at the expense of remembering anything else.
But in the remembering, we should make a point of including the fact that it was an amazing, historic achievement for Auburn to be there in the first place. They were in their first Final Four game in history, and they beat Kansas, North Carolina, and Kentucky to get there. An absolutely mind-blowing accomplishment. Auburn fans may be the only ones who talk about the path to this game more than the game itself, but they have every right to.