Head coaches line front row at Final Four
”You saw what I saw.”
That’s about all NCAA coordinator of officials John Adams would say about the final 30 seconds of the Ohio State-Kansas game on Saturday night.
Everyone appeared to see something different, but it was the officials who were on the hook for a series of questionable calls in Kansas’ 64-62 win at the Final Four. Fans sent seat cushions flying from the stands onto the floor after the game ended.
The sequence that prompted that reaction began when Kansas center Jeff Withey thought he was about to convert a three-point play to possibly put the game away with 27 seconds to go. He caught the ball in the lane, absorbed contact and flicked the ball into the hoop.
”I was getting really excited. I thought I was going to go up, hit a free throw to go up by six or seven,” he said.
Instead, referee Jamie Luckie blew the whistle and called traveling.
”It was crazy. I don’t know, I didn’t think it was a walk. The ref might. He must have saw something,” Withey said. ”After that, it was a little frustrating.”
With just under 3 seconds left, Ohio State guard Aaron Craft stepped to the line with his team trailing 64-61. He made the first free throw, then attempted to miss the second by firing the ball at the rim as soon as referee Pat Adams handed him the ball. Craft grabbed the ball and attempted a layup, but was whistled for a lane violation.
”There is no explanation. Apparently I crossed before it hit the rim. I just knew I had to miss it. I thought that would be the best way for us to get the ball back,” Craft said. ”They’ve called it all tournament with guys going in early. It’s not about that one call. That’s not what lost us the game.”
But the Buckeyes never got a chance to foul to extend the game. Pat Adams handed the ball to Kansas, and Ohio State was caught out of position as the Jayhawks inbounded and ran out the clock.
”It was a lane violation. Ohio State, I guess was arguing about it and Kansas was ready to put the ball in play,” John Adams said. ”You saw what I saw.”
John Adams listened to the final moments of the broadcast, then got up and headed directly to the officials’ locker room, as he does after every game. He also said it was standard procedure to review every game tape and assign scores for each referee’s performance.
At the 18-minute mark of the first half, a foul charged to Kansas’ Travis Releford was changed to Thomas Robinson. Officials went to the monitors, but John Adams said that the call involved a ”miscommunication” between the official and the scorer’s table and was within the rules to be corrected.
When pressed on what his thoughts were about the officiating in closing seconds, John Adams declined to comment.
”There’s nothing to say about it,” he said. ”What happened, happened.”
TRIPPED UP: Television cables became a bit of a hazard for Ohio State coach Thad Matta as he emerged from the locker room following the Buckeyes’ loss to Kansas.
Matta had just done an interview with CBS and was about to walk into a ground-level hallway leading to the postgame interview area when his feet got tangled up in cables and he started to fall. Matta was able to stay up with the help of Ohio State and NCAA officials standing nearby, but he grimaced, then grunted in pain and was quickly pulled back into the locker room.
Matta eventually made his way back to the podium, albeit later than planned.
He was not in any obvious pain and when asked about the fall said, ”Cord caught my foot. I’m all right. Thank you for asking.”
NEXT-BEST SEATS IN THE HOUSE: Denny Crum sat two seats away from Eddie Sutton, and just down the line from Tubby Smith, while North Carolina coach Roy Williams showed up wearing a baby blue tie – and no Jayhawks sticker.
Yes, there were plenty of high-profile coaches on hand to watch the Final Four on Saturday night.
Some of them with pretty apparent rooting interests.
Crum, who wore a red-and-white striped shirt, won a pair of national championships in the 1980s with Louisville. Eddie Sutton had a couple of wildly successful years with Kentucky, though they were no match for Smith’s group of Wildcats, who won the 1998 national championship.
Of course, much of that team was recruited by current Louisville coach Rick Pitino, adding one more layer of intrigue to the Cardinal’s national semifinal against Kentucky.
”It’s healthy for college sports and basketball in particular,” Smith said during halftime of the opening game. ”Great atmosphere. It’s two programs that love basketball.”
Crum said that Kentucky was ”tough. They’re very athletic, very, very good.” Sutton was more excited by his seat, the best he’d had at a Final Four since taking Oklahoma State in 2004.
”It’s the best seat I’ve ever had except for the Final Four on the bench,” Sutton said with a smile. ”I don’t know how I got down here. Both of these teams are very, very good.”
Williams said he would be pulling for Kansas, the school he led to three Final Fours – and the same school that knocked his Tar Heels out of the NCAA tournament last weekend – when the Jayhawks took the floor against Ohio State in the other semifinal game.
Williams remains fond of the Jayhawks and greeted several of his old friends from the program on Saturday night. But he didn’t wear a sticker of the team’s mascot on his shirt, like he did at the Final Four in 2008, when the Jayhawks beat North Carolina en route to their last national title.
”Nobody asked me,” Williams said with a smile. ”And I got a lot of crap for it last time.”
Further down the row from Williams was Larry Brown, who led the Jayhawks to the 1988 title and has been following the team throughout the tournament. Among the other coaches on hand were Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim, Lon Kruger of Oklahoma and Michigan State’s Tom Izzo.
”It’s fun to be here,” Izzo said, ”but it’s always more fun the way we’ve been here in the past.”
Izzo won the national championship with Michigan State in 2000, part of a run of three straight trips to the Final Four. He returned to the national semifinals in 2010.
Izzo’s top-seeded Spartans lost to Louisville 57-44 in the regional semifinals, and he grumbled about the wise guy who decided to put him and his wife, Lupe, in a section of Cardinal fans.
”I’ve got no idea how that happened,” he said.
There were a few other notable faces behind the row of well-known coaches. Shaquille O’Neal was easy to spot, towering over everyone else when he stood up. A couple rows closer to the floor was actor Ken Jeong, better known to fans of ”The Hangover” as Mr. Chow, and fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger.
SUNGLASSES NEEDED: Louisville was sporting its infrared uniforms for the Final Four.
The Cardinals were 5-0 in their orange, err, ”red” uniforms, and they weren’t about to mess with that success with a trip to the NCAA title game on the line. Louisville ended up losing 69-61 to Kentucky.
”We’re in the Final Four. If anybody has a problem with (the uniforms), they can just chalk that up,” Louisville point guard Peyton Siva said. ”We’re not going to change anything.”
Kentucky coach John Calipari said this week that the uniforms had been outlawed and they wanted to wear blue. ”As a matter of fact the higher seed has a choice of color, and we pick blue,” Calipari joked – though as the higher seed, the Wildcats had to wear home whites.
Louisville was one of several teams that made fashion statements – if you can call it that – in the postseason. Baylor did its best imitation of a highlighter with its fluorescent yellow uniforms, and its green camouflage combo can be re-used during hunting season. Cincinnati had some color combos that even the Crayola folks didn’t realize existed.
And the Cardinals? They made everyone see red – though not a hue anyone recognizes.
”I didn’t think Coach P would like them,” Siva said, referring to coach Rick Pitino, who has set the trend for coaches with his finely tailored suits. ”Coach P doesn’t like change.”
JUDD JAZZED: Actress Ashley Judd has been one of the most visible supporters of Kentucky hoops over the years, showing up to games in Lexington and around the country.
No way was she going to miss seeing the Wildcats at the Final Four in the Big Easy.
Sitting in the front row behind Kentucky’s bench inside the Superdome, Judd was decked out in blue and white as she awaited the most-anticipated game in the heated in-state rivalry with the Cardinals. She kept jumping from her seat to cheer every big play against Louisville.
”It’s just wonderful for the state,” she said. ”This is like the good ol’ days. This is about history, it’s about family. It’s very special.”
KENTUCKY ROYALTY: Joining actress Ashley Judd courtside behind the Kentucky bench were rapper Jay-Z, Nike chairman Phil Knight and Creative Artists Agency consultant William Wesley.
Jay-Z, a 14-time Grammy Award winner, made an appearance earlier this season at Rupp Arena to watch the Wildcats, and came out onto the floor when he was introduced in the second half of the Wildcats’ 69-62 victory over Louisville on Dec. 31 in the team’s first meeting.
Nike sponsors Kentucky, while Judd is known as the program’s biggest fan, often driving from her Franklin, Tenn. home to attend a handful of games each season. She’s been a constant part of this year’s Final Four run and gave a hug to Jay-Z, wearing a New York Yankees’ hat.
Wesley, also known as ”Worldwide Wes” is a friend of Kentucky coach John Calipari, dating back to the recruitment of Wesley’s godson, Dajuan Wagner, at Memphis.
SUPER-SIZED ATTENDANCE: A near-record crowd packed the Superdome on Saturday night.
The official attendance was 73,361 and the NCAA called it the second-most attended session in NCAA tournament history.
The spotlight was primarily on the first semifinal between Kentucky and Louisville.
By the second half of the Kansas-Ohio State, many in the upper decks had left even though a rowdy crowd remained in the lowest level.
MONICA’S MOMENT: Grammy award winning R&B recording artist Monica performed the national anthem before Saturday night’s semifinal games in New Orleans.
Monica Brown released her debut album ”Miss Thang” in 1995 and had two singles reach the top of the R&B singles list, making her the youngest recording artist to have consecutive No. 1 hits on the Billboard charts. Her second album featured the duet, ”The Boy is Mine” with Brandy.
Monica has sold more than 20 million albums worldwide and was named one of the Top 50 R&B and hip hop artists of the past 25 years in 2010. She is married to Phoenix Suns and former Michigan State guard Shannon Brown and resides in Atlanta.
WOODEN AWARD: Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis won the Wooden Award on Saturday, the latest honor in his accolade-filled season.
Davis becomes the second freshman to win the Wooden Award after Kevin Durant also accomplished the feat in 2007. Hall of Fame coach John Wooden’s grandson, Greg, presented the award on behalf of the Los Angeles Athletic club.
Davis won AP Player of the Year on Friday.
AP Sports Writers Dave Skretta, Colin Fly, Jim Litke, Bret Martel and Nancy Armour contributed to this report.