SAN ANTONIO — UConn is headed to its 13th successive Women’s Final Four — using an opportunity in a 12th national tournament — following a controversial non-call at the end of the Huskies’ 69-67 success over Baylor on Monday night in the Alamodome.
Trailing 68-67 with 5 minutes left, Baylor shield DiJonai Carrington seemed to be fouled by two Huskies players, Aaliyah Edwards and Olivia Nelson-Ododa, because 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 under a second left, which accounted for the last score, and the River Walk Region No. 1 seed Huskies had lived behind freshman Paige Bueckers’ 28 points.
However, the debate was just getting started.
NBA celebrity LeBron James tweeted,”Cmon, man!!! That was a foul!!” Even UConn coach Geno Auriemma’s daughter Alysa tweeted, “That should have been a foul.”
“What did you see? “You do not need a quote from me. 1 kid hits her in the face, and one child hits her elbow.”
It wasn’t the first controversial call, or absence thereof, in the women’s basketball championship this past year. Three questionable calls at the last moment went against Troy in its reduction to Texas A&M from the initial round, a match which might have been the very first example of a No. 15 seed beating a 2-seed in women’s NCAA championship history.
And it wasn’t the first time Mulkey has been on the losing end of a challenging telephone from the NCAA tourney. From the 2004 Sweet 16, Baylor was called for filthy on a scramble for the ball, sending Tennessee to the foul line with under a second left in a tied game. The Lady Vols made both free throws for a 71-69 victory.
Wondering if there was anything which could be done concerning questionable calls, Mulkey sighed.
“It’ll never happen. It does not matter. “It doesn’t matter what you write. It doesn’t matter what I say. It does not matter what we watched. It does not matter what we think. Life goes on.”
For his role, Geno Auriemma said that there are always questionable calls during every game.
Of James’ tweet, Auriemma said,”I probably doubt in his profession he’s ever won a match and decided to return because he looked at it and went,’That was a foul.'”
“It’s exactly what it really is,” Auriemma clarified. “One time, I asked one of the officials how did Paige end up on the floor with a Baylor player in addition to her on a loose ball? He goes,’I do not know.’ That was the answer.
“So you wish to go back and check every single call throughout the whole game? Then put them all up and — you don’t. That’s the nature of sports”
It’s also true that officiating decisions in the final moments of games always come under more scrutiny because their effect can be so large.
“The main point is, the officials did exactly what they are going to perform,” Auriemma said. “If they would have said it was a foul, I’d be on the other end going,’You can not make that call!’
“I am not going to sit here and apologize for this. If people are going to want to discuss it the rest of the week, then you’re welcome to do this. It’s not going to alter the outcome. Plus it’s not going to cause me to feel bad that you say it was a foul.”
The final telephone captured the headlines, but the turning point from the match came with 2:37 left in the third quarter, when Baylor senior newcomer DiDi Richards suffered an apparent hamstring injury with the Lady Bears leading 55-45. Richards briefly returned to the game, but she was not moving well and had to go to the bench permanently and be replaced by freshman Sarah Andrews.
UConn took good advantage of this absence of Richards, who was the national defensive player of the year last season, to move on a game-changing 19-0 run.
“Obviously, you will never be able to account for injuries happening,” said Carrington, who finished with 22 points. “This was tough for all of us. Sarah got thrown into the fire. We just tried to weather the storm. We never gave up. We thought we were outside of it.”
And they were not. After Williams missed two free throws with 18 seconds left, Baylor got back the ball down by one, with an opportunity to win. What occurred then, rightly or wrongly, became the story of the evening.
“Personally, don’t see it like a controversial call,” Carrington said. “I’ve seen the replay. 1 woman annoys me in my head, and one woman fouled me on my own arm. At that stage, you can’t do anything else.”