HANSEN

Greg Hansen: Without fire, Cats and their boss burn

2013-03-16T00:00:00Z Greg Hansen: Without fire, Cats and their boss burnGreg Hansen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
March 16, 2013 12:00 am  • 

LAS VEGAS

With cameras rolling and a media audience engaged if not entertained, an animated and agitated Sean Miller asked a most simple question at the end of a long night.

"What are we, 25-6?"

Sitting nearby, his head in his hands, Solomon Hill corrected his coach.

"Seven," he said. "25-7."

At this time of the season, the difference between 25-6 and 25-7 seems insignificant, but Hill knew immediately that six would have been bliss and seven is hell.

"It mattered more than anything," Hill said, emotionally, 30 minutes after Arizona lost 66-64 to UCLA in the Pac-12 tournament semifinals. "It was a chance to get hats and T-shirts and to cut down the nets."

Arizona won't be anybody's Pac-12 champion this year for a lot of reasons, many of them manifest in the final 10 minutes Friday when the Wildcats ceased to play with the fire, discipline and physicality that had staked them to a 49-38 lead.

Miller could live with that. I mean, UCLA's really good and Miller's team played to near exhaustion in one of the most compelling Pac-12 tournament games of the last decade. But he couldn't live with a game-changing technical foul.

Referee Michael Irving called a technical on Miller with 4:37 remaining after a seemingly benign double-dribble call on Arizona point guard Mark Lyons. Arizona led 56-54.

Miller argued that a UCLA player had touched the ball, therefore making Lyons' play legal.

Boom. Technical foul. Game unalterably changed.

Irving has called 141 technical fouls in his college officiating career, one that stretches back to 1997, and he has called 10 technicals over 57 games this year. But the one he assessed to Miller at the heart of the league's most meaningful game was fully unnecessary and, it turned out, egregious.

Outside of Arizona's locker room, before Miller participated in a formal press conference, his voice carried through the wall. As he was explaining the technical to his staff, Miller said, with emphasis:

"I didn't even think I was on the court! All I said was, 'Are you sure he touched the ball?' The only thing (the referees) say is stay in the (coaching) box, and I was in the box. Damn it!"

It was Miller's first technical foul of the year. Irving calls about eight technicals per season, and on Friday night, at the worst possible moment, he blew his whistle at the wrong time.

It probably didn't cost Arizona the game, but then again, the two free throws Adams made were the difference on the scoreboard.

It would've been so much better had the players fully decided the outcome.

"I feel like (the refs) broke under pressure," Hill said when he returned to Arizona's locker room. He preceded that remark by saying, "I'm happy I'm not playing in the Pac-12 any more."

Miller was so consumed by the turn of events, and by being complicit in the change, that while returning to his team's dressing room he took a wrong turn and wound up grabbing the handle to the door that housed the Oregon Ducks.

"I told our team after the game that's all completely on me," he said. "If you're the coach of a team and you get a technical in this type of situation under four minutes, that's unacceptable."

Miller was beyond apologetic. He could live with a third straight loss to the Bruins, but the burden of knowing he cost his team two points will linger.

"My man over here, he's never coming back here again," Miller said, nodding to Hill. "His coach gets a technical foul. I didn't cuss him. I didn't challenge him. By the way, it's my first technical foul of the year. That's what this is about."

Eight times in his brief press session Miller said that a UCLA defender "touched the ball" when called for a double-dribble, which, in essence, became the play of the game. He could have said it 800 times, but it's not going to change anything.

"It's just difficult, man, when you invest hundreds of hours, in Solomon's case, thousands of hours," he said. "And if I cuss and I'm out of control and I've been warned, shame on me. But when I say he touched the ball, he touched the ball, because quite frankly, I thought two (officials) could have maybe gotten together and explained that, in fact, he did touch the ball. That's what I was hoping for.

"That technical right there is hard to swallow. When you lose by two and you gave them two, and you're the coach, you have to take that burden, and I've got that with me."

The bill for Arizona's loss is tangible. It will be paid on Sunday afternoon when the NCAA selection committee is likely to issue the Wildcats a No. 5 or No. 6 seed instead of what might have been a No. 3 or a No. 4.

The degree of difficulty will be much greater every step of the way.

Ultimately, if nothing else, give Miller credit for his postgame theatrics. He trashed the officiating without really trashing them. If the NCAA gave an Oscar for sarcasm, Miller would have left the MGM Grand with a trophy after all.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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