Sorry, coach. We’ve all heard your tired story before, and frankly, it’s getting old. Hearing you criticize officiating after a loss is as sure as death and taxes, and it’s a whole lot easier than blaming yourself or your players.
But what if the calls are so lopsided that you might actually be right? Sorry, as a former official, I still maintain that while the officiating can definitely be a factor in the outcome, it rarely, if ever, is the main reason a team loses a game.
West Virginia men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins probably doesn’t agree with me. And that’s OK. Nobody’s perfect.
What was his beef? The Mountaineers only had two free-throw attempts to KU’s 35, so on the surface, his gripe with the officiating appears to be justified. In fact, he was so unhappy he received two technical fouls and was ejected in the closing seconds of a 77-69 loss for West Virginia in Lawrence. He didn’t like the apparent home cooking.
Huggins said: “I’ve been doing this for 40 years. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a game where we shot two free throws. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a game where the disparity is 35-2. I’ve never been in a game like that.”
Nowhere does the rulebook say both teams should shoot the same number of free throws.
“The sad part is (the Jayhawks) don’t need it,” said Huggins. “That’s a good team. They’re very well-coached. I’m going to tell you what: There’s something wrong to do that to kids who are playing their hearts out.”
The Jayhawks needed every free throw they could get that game. Even with the free-throw disparity, KU trailed 66-58 with 3:47 remaining in the game.
Huggins also said: “Officials want to be part of the game, but they don’t want to be the part of the game that has to answer. Why aren’t they here answering your questions?” the coach said.
Asked what he told his team after the game, Huggins said, “It wasn’t their (the players’) fault.”
I agree the free-throw disparity was unusual and that some calls didn’t go his way, but that doesn’t explain the decision by West Virginia’s Daxter Miles Jr. to pass up a wide open 3-point attempt that could have given the Mountaineers a lead late in the game.
Instead, the pass led to a turnover and Kansas sealed the win with two free throws. Note to coach: the officials didn’t make the bad pass.
During the last four or five minutes of the game, West Virginia’s offensive strategy consisted of one player standing at mid-court and dribbling for about 20 seconds before running an offensive play the last 10 seconds of the shot clock. Yes, it took time off the clock, but West Virginia ended up taking a low-percentage shot. Again, that wasn’t the officials’ fault.
It’s much easier for a team to play hard on defense for only 10 seconds rather than 20-30 seconds for each possession.
ESPN basketball analyst Jay Bilas sat courtside at the game and said there was nothing wrong. Yes, there were some missed calls, but he said there were a number of calls that also should have or could have gone against West Virginia.
“Free-throw disparity is a function of style of play and how teams play on that day,” wrote Bilas. “West Virginia settled for a lot of jump shots, while Kansas drove the ball into the lane and punched the ball into its big guy.
“The officials made some mistakes, yes. But the officials did not cost West Virginia the game. The Mountaineers did that all by themselves.”
Coach Huggins should know better and I believe he probably does. But like the rest of us, sometimes he finds it easier to blame others than to take responsibility.
Hillsboro resident Joe Kleinsasser is director of news and media relations at Wichita State University. You can reached him at Joe.Kleinsasser@wichita.edu.