Arizona's loss was fair not foul
ANAHEIM, Calif. — When Arizona junior guard Nick Johnson was called for an offensive charge in the final seconds of overtime in the Wildcats’ Elite Eight game, fans in the Honda Center were speechless.
Shocked over what had just happened, opposing Wisconsin fans immediately threw their hands in the air with joy. Arizona fans made the same motion, but in disgust.
Arizona head coach Sean Miller was speechless. Lost in a dumbfounded stare, it appeared Miller was near boiling point.
“I thought it was a really, really tough call,” Miller said. “I’m going to stop there. I’ve already been fined.”
With his now loose tie barely hanging around his tense neck, Miller, as he often does throughout the games, composed himself by straightening his tie and re-tightening the knot.
But then Arizona got another chance.
After freshman forward Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s defensive effort to tip the inbound pass off a Badger needed a monitor review, official Tony Greene, who had made the call on the Arizona captain, was again the center of attention.
During the review an Arizona fan near the court yelled at Greene: “This better be a make-up call.”
Soon after more screams by Wildcat fans were directed at the 55-year-old official.
“You’re taking it out of the players’ hands,” yelled another fan.
While the two other officials viewed the monitor at the call in question, Greene stood in front of Miller as the fifth year Wildcats coach, still floored from the charging call, relieved some tension by joining in the yelling.
Greene, who just over a month ago felt the brunt of Syracuse’s head coach Jim Boeheim’s frustration, found himself in a familiar position.
A veteran official who has worked five NCAA Championships, Greene made an identical offensive charging call on the Orange’s C.J. Fair with just 10 seconds left in a tightly contested No. 1 Syracuse versus No. 5 Duke Feb. 22 battle.
Following the call, Boeheim hysterically ran on to Coach K Court at Cameron Indoor Stadium to get in Greene’s face and argue the call. He was promptly ejected from the game, and with him, the Orange’s chances of winning.
But the charging call made by Greene was not dismissed. It was analyzed by all and brought up again and again by critics.
“I just thought that was the worst call of the year, that’s all,” Boeheim said in the press conference following the 66-60 loss. “I hated to see the game decided on that call.”
As Miller stood in front of Greene during the official’s timeout, visibly struggling to keep his emotions in check, one could only imagine the flashbacks going through Greene’s mind.
Once done venting, Miller returned to the team huddle to give his team a fighting chance.
“It was a confusing time,” Miller said. “We had to be really thorough because unless we got a five-second count, a steal or fouled on the catch, we would have no chance to win.”
However, Arizona did get the play off. Miller said he told Johnson, the recipient of the inbound, that he could take no more than two steps.
He was right — Wisconsin’s stiff defense forced Johnson to take one too many steps, and the Wildcats’ captain couldn’t get the shot off in time.
“It came down to one final play,” Johnson said after the game. “But [Wisconsin] made it tough.”
As soon as Johnson took his extra step and the horn went off, Miller, who was drenched in sweat, turned to shake Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan’s hand.
Ryan’s coaching, not Greene’s call, had beaten Miller.
“We lost today to an excellent team,” Miller said. “It wasn’t as if we didn’t get the job done or we played bad. [I] thought both teams played really hard [and it] could have gone either way.”
—Follow Luke Della @LukeDella