Don’t blame the refs, Washington blew this game on their own

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We got exactly what we expected out of North Carolina’s 86-83 win over Washington.

Two teams that love to get out and run the floor got out and ran the floor, scoring in bunches in transition on open threes and fast break dunks. There were great passes, there were big-time shots made by big-time players, and there were several moments that you can expect to see on Sportscenter tonight.

It was as entertaining as any game played in this tournament.

But unfortunately, it, too, was stained by some questionable officiating down the stretch.

With 5.0 seconds left, Venoy Overton fired up a prayer from half court. The shot was off target and John Henson tried to catch it. But the ball went through his hands and landed out of bounds. There were still 0.5 seconds left on the clock, but replays showed that there could have been as much as 1.4 seconds remaining.

This is when it gets ugly.

The referees didn’t appear to go back and check the monitor to see if the time was correct, something they are allowed to do and have done roughly 6,934 times this month by my estimate. In his postgame interview on CBS, however, Lorenzo Romar said that he asked the refs to check the time and that they said they already had. That means one of three things — either Romar is lying, the refs are lying, or the refs simply blew the call.

None of those three outcomes are ideal.

But the truth is actually irrelevant.

Because if Washington had executed down the stretch, the game wouldn’t have come down to the call of an official.

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With two minutes left, after a 13-4 UNC run left Washington down 82-78, freshman Terrence Ross — who scored 19 points in the game — was ripped in the open floor by Harrison Barnes which led to a layup from Dexter Strickland. Two possessions later, Ross missed another ill-advised shot in the lane.

After Scott Suggs hit a three to cut the lead to 84-83, Kendall Marshall missed the front end of a one-and-one. The ball ended up in Venoy Overton’s hand, and the Husky senior went the length of the floor and shot a difficult, off balance layup instead of giving the ball up. On the ensuing inbounds play with 7.4 seconds left, Justin Holiday had his pass deflected by John Henson. Strickland would hit two free throws at the other end.

UNC called a timeout, and the play that Romar drew up put the ball in Overton’s hands. Overton took three dribbles and fired up a 45 footer from the sideline with a good three seconds still on the clock. It looked like he was trying to draw a foul.

On Washington’s two most important possessions of the game, the ball was not put into Isaiah Thomas’ hands, which is a mind-boggling decision.

Thomas is your best creator. He’s your best scorer. He’s the guy that isn’t afraid to take and make the big shot, and he proved it exactly eight days ago when he won the Pac-10 Tournament with a buzzer-beating jumper against Arizona.

Overton is a defensive specialist.

That kind of decision making is what has plagued Washington the past couple of seasons. This is a team with as much raw talent as anyone in the country. Their decision making, late-game execution, and coaching has been what is missing.

I like Lorenzo Romar a lot.

But its tough not to question whether this program has a ceiling with him at the helm.