Some games leave you with a bad taste in your mouth, and Duke beating Wisconsin 68-63 to win their fifth NCAA Tournament and college basketball championship was certainly one of them, due to the referees making almost every possible mistake at critical juncture to help out the Blue Devils come away with the trophy.
Conspiracy? Probably not, but for a game that’s about the decide the one, definitive champion (like they do in the Big 12 in football season, or try to at least), it’s a shame that the mood of a group of referees on a certain night and their inability to see a replay as it should be or actually look for the important things on the floor, gets to determine the identity of a champion.
Mike Krzyzewski won’t be remembered for the bad game he coached or for getting lucky, as Tyus Jones and even more incredibly Grayson Allen rescued him from a loss he deserved to be accounted for. Now, he has five national championships spanning three different decades, and will be known as the best college basketball head coach since John Wooden.
And Bo Ryan couldn’t hold himself back and had to talk about the officials. It was impossible not to. After Wisconsin took a 9-point lead in the second half (48-39 following a Frank Kaminsky layup), something changed in the way Pat Driscoll, Joe DeRosa and Michael Stephens were calling the game. Suddenly, a team that doesn’t foul was called for one on every drive to the basket by Duke players, who outshot Wisconsin 20-to-10 from the free throw line.
And if that’s not bad enough, Wisconsin had to fight against phantom calls. One was Justise Winslow tipping the ball out of bounds for the entire world to see except the three people who are calling the game. Everyone saw the ball change direction when Winslow’s hand was near it. Everyone saw the finger fold. Everyone saw that he touched it. And yet it somehow turned into a Duke ball.
But that wasn’t the only terrible call by the officials. Maybe the biggest basket of the game was when Jahlil Okafor scored in the paint to put Duke up by three points (61-58) with 3:14 remaining, also getting to the line thanks to a foul by Kaminsky. But Justise Winslow, setting up the play, was clearly out of bounds, stepping on the line and in more than just a fraction of his foot. Once again, no one dared to make the call.
Okafor couldn’t handle Kaminsky and sat a lot of minutes due to foul trouble played well when inserted back in the final minutes, finishing with 10 points and 3 rebounds. Tyus Jones scored 23 points and Allen finished with 16, being the surprise freshmen to actually carry Duke to victory. Kaminsky led Wisconsin with 21 points. Nigel Hayes had 13, Sam Dekker scored 12. Shooting just 41% from the field and 33.3% from beyond the arc, battling a good Duke team and the referees was a bit too much to handle.
But it’s over, regardless of justice and the complaining. Duke, with more talent, less in-game coaching and the right kind of help from the men in the grey uniform are the college basketball champions. Wisconsin, with smarter basketball but on a bad shooting day and defending with one hand tied behind their back through the second half, took it one step further compared to last season, but Bo Ryan needs to start from scratch next season.