Western Kentucky University, my alma mater and favorite sports team, had a chance for a big regular-season win playing the University of Arizona in the championship of the Fiesta Bowl Classic. Coming in only the ultra-optimistic Hilltopper fans expected WKU to stay on the court with the high flying Wildcats.
Optimism was justified this time. The Toppers took the fight to the dog all night long and in the face of a hostile crowd and athletic team, the Tops never lost composure. For the game, the Red and White outshot 'Zona from the floor (46.3% to 42.5%) from behind the 3pt line (36.4% to 29.4%) and from the line (84.6% to 79.2%.) The good guys outrebouned the Wildcats 48-35 (including 20-17 on the offensive glass.)
So how did WKU lose? Easy, they got jobbed. Of course, at Arizona's tournament, on their floor, with them being a Pac-10 team and WKU coming from the lowly Sun Belt Conference, you knew Arizona would get the majority of the calls in the game. However, three big calls stand out as game altering.
1. During regulation with WKU clinging to a 6 point lead, Wildcat guard Hassan Adams leaked out for a dunk attempt. WKU guard Butch Jointer caught up and made a play for the ball but Adams lost his balance and tumbled over. Intentional Foul was the call. 'Zona made both free throws and scored a deuce on the ensuing possession. 6 pt lead to 2 pts just like that.
2. In OT with WKU trailing 83-81, Jointer wrestled a rebound away from Arizona center Chris Rodgers. Rodgers gave Jointer a push in frustration, causing Jointer to fall to the floor. Travelling was the call and the ball went to Arizona.
3. Two possessions later in OT, Adams drove the lane against two WKU defenders, air balled a finger roll attempt and grabbed the rebound. What is a text-book walk, Adams was not whistled and scored puttting 'Zona up 86-81, the final margin.
Think it's just sour grapes? According to Brian J. Pederson, columnist for the Arizona Daily Star WKU was robbed of their opportunity. Pederson writes in today's column entitled "WKU Seems Legitimate Contender," "It hurt even more to see all of WKU's work in regulation go for naught in overtime, thanks to a slew of home team-friendly calls. One in particular was a travelling call on junior Butch Jointer with 23.7 seconds left and the UA up 83-81."
I don't think officials honestly look for ways to screw teams like WKU out of wins. Surely they don't lack that much integrity and accountability. I think, however, that when a call seems 50/50 somewhere in their subconcious that see Arizona as the better team, therefore they are more likely to deserve the call. A theory that John Feinstein supports in his book, "The Last Amateurs."
I'm still very proud of my Hilltoppers. I think we're turning the corner and will maximize our potential before too long. If so, look out SBC and the NCAA's should be iminent.
HOWEVER, last night's loss effectively ends WKU's chance for a marquee win it would need for an at-large bid. So now the SBC becomes a one-bid league with all the marbles on the line in the SBC tournament in Murfreesboro, Tn this March. It stinks that it came down that way, but that's life as a mid-major.