The right call but, for the NCAAs and Auburn, at an awful time
MINNEAPOLIS — It was the right call, but it came at an awful time. A shooting foul, on a 3-point attempt no less, with roughly a half-second to play.
What a way to lose for Auburn. What a way to win for Virginia, still tarnished by an historic defeat a year ago.
That one game in the first round of the 2018 NCAA tournament made the Cavaliers, upset by the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, the first No. 1 seed to lose to a 16th seed.
This one, a dramatic 63-62 win over Auburn Saturday night in the first Final Four semifinal at U.S. Bank Stadium, lifted Virginia, once more a No. 1 seed, into Monday’s final.
That’s because Kyle Guy, after he was fouled with 0.6 seconds remaining, made all three free throws, which if you watch college basketball these days, or even the NBA, is no small achievement.
“Yeah,” said Guy, “those are the moments that every basketball player has ever dreamed of, hitting the game-winning shot or free throws. Kind of had that feeling in your stomach, like a good nervousness: ‘All right, this is my chance.‘”
He got the chance because Samir Doughty was called for bumping Guy’s legs as Guy released a corner jumper.
It's so tough to see a game in effect decided by the officials, but the call was legit. Doughty made contact, and there shouldn’t be a different interpretation of whether or not it was a foul if there's a sixth of a second remaining or six minutes.
The call was made by official James Breeding, who said Doughty took away Guy’s landing spot, a violation of Rule 4. TV replays supported Breeding’s call. Unfortunately for Auburn.
“I didn’t think it was a foul,” said Auburn’s Bryce Brown, who was on court, “but the refs thought otherwise. Can’t go back and rewind.”
Teammate Jared Harper had what basketball people would say is the right perspective. “I would just say I think it was a tough call,” said Harper, “but that’s not where we lost the game.”
They lost it because, after leading 31-28 at halftime, they couldn’t score for the first 5 minutes, 46 seconds of the second half. They hurled 3-point shots with abandon, which is the Tigers’ style. And made none.
Finally, trailing 57-47 with some six minutes to go, Auburn began to score. And score. And went in front, 61-57. Only seven seconds remained.
Virginia was to be embarrassed once more. No, it wasn’t. Guy, the junior from Indianapolis, Indiana’s “Mr. Basketball” as a prep star, made a remarkable 3-pointer to close the gap to one and then made three of the biggest foul shots of his young life.
And then a teammate was forced to recall last year’s disappointment. Again.
“I feel like I get asked that question every single round,” said Virginia’s Ty Jerome, whose 21 points led both teams in scoring. “And every round I say the same thing, and it feels a little sweeter. And to think this time last year we were starting our spring workouts.”
Which Auburn now will be doing.
“We kind of thought we had it sealed,” said Auburn’s Brown.
Pearl was philosophical and thinking grandly, maybe too grandly.
“So this will be a memorable game,” said Pearl, in the Final Four for a first time, “and I’d like to be remembered for a great game.”
Auburn was 9 of 31 on 3-pointers, which doesn’t quite meet the definition of great.
In the end Virginia, as good teams do, won on defense. Auburn shot 35 percent in the second half, 38 percent for the game.
“But let’s remember two teams played hard and had only 13 turnovers combined,” said Pearl. “Let’s not remember this game for how it ended.”
But, of course, that’s how this game will be remembered. Especially by Auburn.