Iowa vs. Connecticut was a Final Four classic. Then came the whistle.

Iowa vs. Connecticut was a Final Four classic. Then came the whistle.

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

CLEVELAND — Watch the play over and over, slow the clip down, and see how many questions you can come up with: Was Aaliyah Edwards still moving, instead of setting a legal screen, when she collided with Iowa guard Gabbie Marshall on Friday night? Did Edwards, Connecticut’s star forward, extend her left elbow just a bit, clipping Marshall as they passed each other?

Did Edwards set her feet?

Did Marshall oversell the contact when she threw her head back and her arms in the air?

Or does any of that matter at all? Is there any world in which a referee should call an offensive foul in that moment, with Connecticut trailing Iowa by a point, with 3.9 seconds left and Paige Bueckers about to look for a game-winning shot? After Iowa’s 71-69 win at the Final Four — a win that pushed Caitlin Clark’s Hawkeyes to a championship game matchup with South Carolina on Sunday — how you answer might depend on where you live, how you bet, whether you’re into whistles or all-time endings. Here was how the principal characters viewed the play:

Lisa Bluder, Iowa’s coach: “I really didn’t see the offensive call at the end. I was kind of blocked.”

Geno Auriemma, Connecticut’s coach, who screamed at the court after seeing the call: “I mean, there’s probably an illegal screen call that you could make on every single possession. I just know there were three or four of them called on us and I don’t think there were any called on them. So I guess we just got to get better at not setting illegal screens.”

Edwards: “My point of view, it was pretty clean.”

Marshall: “I knew they were going to try to get it to Paige. I didn’t know how it was going to happen, but I just tried to stay on her hip.”

So did it feel like Edwards was moving when you two made contact?

“Yes,” said Marshall, sitting on a folding chair in Iowa’s giddy locker room. “It did.”

“You work on it in different defensive drills,” said Jan Jensen, Iowa’s assistant head coach. “But it’s usually a seasoned player that is kind of jumping it. You have a little intensity of knowing — because [Edwards] is pretty big and powerful, right? So you can gamble sometimes. I was blocked a little. I was probably looking down and saying a quick prayer. … I can’t wait to go watch it again.”

Before the call, there had been 39:56 of game time. After it, the Huskies failed to rebound a missed free throw, allowing the Hawkeyes to run out the clock. But the rest of it — Nika Mühl hounding Clark, Marshall hounding Bueckers, Hannah Stuelke leading Iowa with 23 points — had trouble competing with the closing sequence.

A steal left Connecticut, down six key players because of injuries, with 9.3 seconds. Auriemma drew up the play for Bueckers coming off Edwards’s screen. And then it was impossible to ignore the echo of one whistle.

“Everybody can make a big deal of that one single play, but not one single play wins a basketball game or loses a basketball game,” said Bueckers, who made 7 of 17 shots for 17 points. “I feel there were a lot of mistakes that I made that could have prevented that play from even being that big.

“So you can look at one play and say, ‘Oh, that killed us or that hurt us.’ But we should have done a better job, I should have done a better job of making sure we didn’t leave the game up to chance like that … up to one bad call [not] going our way and that deciding it. Yeah, maybe that was a tough call for us, but I feel like I could have done a better job preventing that from even happening.”

Or as Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) put it on X: “What a joke of a call.”

Of course, Bueckers is right. But no one is wrong for wanting a back-and-forth game to end any other way. Who knows what happens if the play continues, if Bueckers dribbles once — maybe twice — and clears enough space for a clean look. At that point, the ball goes in or it doesn’t. The outcome, though, is in a star player’s hands.

Instead, the call joins a larger conversation about refereeing in women’s basketball. Just what everyone paid for.

“If you would have given me this stat sheet without the final score before the game, I would have told you we won the game,” Auriemma said. “They’re the highest-scoring team in the country, and we feel like if we hold you to 71, we should win that game. And we should have won the game.”

The problem, as Auriemma knows, is that the stat sheet only showed three fouls for Edwards, not that one was an illegal screen on their last possession of the season. It showed 11 offensive rebounds for Iowa, not that one kept the Huskies from touching the ball again. It showed a lot — points, assists, turnovers, blocks — and still left so much out.

Sure, winners write history. But sometimes referees do, too.

“They say the little things matter,” Auriemma said before walking off to the locker room. “But you find out in life there is no such thing as little things.”

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