Foul or no foul, that is the question

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After UCLA’s dismal performance in the preseason NIT in New York City last week, no one really expected the Bruins to keep it interesting against the Kansas Jayhawks on Thursday night.

Boy, were we wrong.

Joshua Smith stayed out of foul trouble and proved how dominant he can be on the block with 17 points and 13 boards. More importantly, however, Tyler Honeycutt finally showed why he is being projected as a first round draft pick this June by becoming UCLA’s go-to scorer, at least for the night. He had 33 points, including a three pointer with five seconds left that tied the game at 76.

It was quite an entertaining first 39 minutes and 55 seconds. And its a shame, because nothing about those 39 minutes and 55 seconds is going to be discussed.

After Honeycutt’s three, Kansas pushed it the other way with Marcus Morris, who lost control of the ball. It ended up in between UCLA’s Malcolm Lee and Kansas’ Mario Little. The two collided, but since Little beat Lee to the ball, he was able to toss up a prayer, a falling-down 15 footer. The shot missed, and everyone thought we were heading to overtime.

But there was a whistle.

Lee had been called for a foul. (Watch it here. Haven’t found an embeddable video yet.)

After the refs reviewed the play, they awarded Little two fouls shot with 0.7 seconds left on the clock. Little hit the first and, since UCLA had no timeouts left, he missed the second.

Game over.

Kansas wins.

The issue that everyone is talking about is whether or not the foul should have been called.

Let’s break it down. Lee fouled Little on the play. I believe that. It may have been a loose ball, but Little beat Lee to it and the contact that Lee made with Little knocked Little off balance. If the clock isn’t winding down and Lee doesn’t make contact, Little has an open layup. And if the clock isn’t winding down, I think Lee gets called for the foul 90% of the time.

But the issue is that the clock was winding down. This was a scramble play at the end of the game. Little got to the ball with about 1.0 seconds left, which makes it feasible that he could have gotten a shot off. But seeing as Little was off balance and running at full speed, its doubtful he would have gotten off much more than a full speed runner, which is not a high percentage shot, especially for a 6’6″ forward like Little.

In other words, if Little isn’t knocked over, he’s probably not going to be making a buzzer beater.

That’s why the general consensus is that UCLA got robbed.

And why I hesitate to say that consensus is wrong.

My personal opinion?

By the book, the ref made the correct call. As much as I love letting the players determine the outcome of the floor, part of the players determining that outcome is blowing the whistle when a call is earned. A foul in the first minute is a foul in the final minute. A travel in the first minute is a travel in the final minute. That’s the way it should be, and that’s the way the refs should call it.

That said, there wasn’t a huge advantage gained when Lee made contact. Whether or not Little gets knocked over, this game likely would have gone into overtime. If that play is a no call, does Self even argue? (Probably. He’s a coach. They argue everything. But you get my point.)

The best real life equivalent I can come up with is that the ref making this call is like a meter maid giving you a ticket for an expired meter in the time it takes you to get out of your car and get the change out of your pocket.

I feel for the players on UCLA. They played their hearts out. They deserved another five minutes to try and win it.

You have to swallow your whistle on that one.