MINNEAPOLIS — The raised right hand of referee James Breeding turned into a fist as he blew the whistle with 0.6 seconds left to make one of the most controversial calls in Final Four history.
With Auburn clinging to a 62-60 lead with 1.6 seconds left, Tigers guard Samir Doughty heavily contested Virginia’s Kyle Guy — one of the most lethal perimeter shooters in the country. Doughty felt he did an adequate job of challenging Guy’s corner three-pointer with the game on the line.
But the Tigers’ upset bid turned into devastating loss in one moment as Breeding made a difficult late call. Guy buried all three subsequent free throws to lift No. 1 seed Virginia to a shocking 63-62 Final Four victory to advance to the national title game.
“That ain’t no foul,” Doughty thought to himself on the floor immediately after Breeding blew the whistle. Doughty’s in-the-moment feelings later evolved into conflicted thoughts as he sat red-eyed at his locker talking to reporters after one of the more gut-wrenching Final Four losses in recent memory.
“I definitely feel like we deserve a better result but it’s not always going to be like how it happened on that last play,” Doughty said.
“I was so surprised. They hadn’t been calling those fouls all game. There was actually plays where there were fouls on three-pointers and they weren’t getting called. So for them to call that foul that last play was kind of surprising.”
Auburn’s staff knew Virginia would take a corner three-pointer on the inbounds play. It was the easiest look for the Cavaliers to get with the inbounder positioned near mid-court. Austin Wiley, the Tigers’ 6-foot-11 center, was placed on Virginia inbounder Ty Jerome to attempt a deflection. Auburn planned to switch everything to keep a defender close to Guy after he had nailed a desperation corner three-pointer on the Cavaliers’ previous possession.
Knowing the play still didn’t matter.
Guy managed to get free, make a clean catch and turn before firing up the look that hit front rim and drew the foul on Doughty. Replays showed that Doughty impeded on Guy’s ability to land cleanly after the shot. But the shock of Breeding’s late call — which could have easily been a no-call — lingered throughout a U.S. Bank Stadium that was buzzing long after the game ended.
“There’s going to be controversy no matter what I felt. I felt like there was no way I was going to land. He was in my space,” Guy said of the play. “Auburn is going to think otherwise. I’ve been in their shoes before.”
Brutal losses are never easy to take. Auburn’s players and coaching staff did everything they could to credit Virginia for the win. Not all of the Tigers agreed with the late whistle, most notably senior guard Bryce Brown. The Auburn consensus still seemed to be that the game wasn’t won or lost on the final whistle. The Tigers played poorly for much of the second half before Brown’s late flurry of threes gave them the lead. Jared Harper also missed a critical free throw that would have given Auburn a three-point lead with under 10 seconds left.
It’s also impossible to tell Auburn not to think about anything other than the call that changed the outcome of their memorable NCAA tournament run. Breeding’s call will be remembered for years to come whenever a late call is made on a game-deciding shot.
“We kind of thought we had it sealed,” Brown said. “I mean, it just came down to that last possession. It’s not where we lost the game… But it was a significant part where I just didn’t agree with the call. Can’t say too much about that.”