Auburn's Final Four loss to Virginia on Saturday night stung like no other in recent memory, but Bruce Pearl isn't blaming the officials. Instead, he told Dan Patrick that he's been's reflecting on his own offensive game plan: "There were some things that I could have done better that are haunting me a little bit the last couple nights."
The Tigers had taken a four point lead with just 17.6 seconds left and were just about there -- just about to the championship game. A few seconds later, Virginia had the ball and a chance to win or tie. Virginia's Kyle Guy took the corner three at the final buzzer, and... nothing. The shot doesn't land. Game over, Auburn wins!
The celebration lasted all of five seconds.
Amidst the chaos surrounding that final shot, the referee had blown his whistle. A foul on Samir Doughty. Three free throws for Virginia. The shots all went in, giving Virginia an exhilarating victory and a devastating loss for the Tigers.
Fans quickly pointed out two calls that could have, maybe should have, gone Auburn's way. The foul call that put Virginia on the free throw line and sealed the victory was a judgment call that is probably not called as often as it's called. It was barely a foul, but it was indeed a foul and the correct call.
The other was actually a non-call just seconds earlier, when Virginia's Ty Jerome double dribbled the basketball. The refs got the call wrong, and it may have cost Auburn the game.
But don't start thinking Auburn coach Bruce Pearl is going to call out the refs. The double dribble was a tough call to make, and Pearl admitted that he didn't see it either. Instead, he told ESPN that human error is an intrinsic part of the game:
"The biggest point I want to make, and I'm sincere in this, I'm not just saying this because it's politically the right thing to say. There is human error involved in the game. Kids make mistakes, coaches make mistakes. Yes, officials will make mistakes. That's part of the game. Get over it."
Bruce Pearl was also on The Dan Patrick Show and said that the referees in Saturday's game were there because they are the best in the business.
It's a tough pill to swallow, but Bruce Pearl is right about this. There are so many little things that happen in the game of basketball, many are judgment calls. The slightest extra movement can be the difference between an offensive and a defensive foul. A ball can get knocked out of bounds, but who touched it last? And that double dribble? It wasn't an obvious double dribble, and even Bruce Pearl missed it. Don't compare a less than obvious blown call in this game to the Saints getting robbed of a Super Bowl by the most egregious non-call in NFL history. Mistakes will happen, and I absolutely think some referees are better than others. But Auburn fans should take their cue from Bruce Pearl and simply celebrate what this team accomplished. Auburn went to its first ever Final Four. They didn't do that with Charles Barkley, and Auburn has put up a statue of him.
Charles Barkley is a National Treasure
Auburn went all the way to a Final Four without arguably one of their best players. So it's fair to ask: what if....? What if Chuma Okeke hadn't torn his ACL and had been able to play this game? Okeke had successful surgery in Pensacola, according to al.com, and did not travel to the game. Maybe they go further, or maybe Okeke was their motivation after he went down.
Auburn may or may not get to the pinnacle of college basketball again anytime soon. I think they might, actually, and this heartbreak may be the motivating factor. But this is an Auburn men's basketball team for the ages, and one that should make fans proud. It's a team that even Alabama fans found themselves cheering for, and it felt like we were all together in this.
So rather than blame the refs or wallow in what could have been, we'll just appreciate all that this team accomplished. Against the odds and against history, the Auburn Tigers made it to the Final Four. It was a lot of fun.
And by the way, don't look at the extended game highlights too closely. The NCAA is also trying not to focus on the two controversial calls and did not include them in their highlight video.