We as fans often discuss the impact officiating can have on the game, but usually in terms of how it affects 'our' team. "The refs screwed 'us,'" etc. As a former official myself, however, I tend to look at it on a more holistic level. Poor officiating, in fact, rarely just leverages against one team; it usually strikes both, bringing down the quality of play across the board.
Such was the case Saturday at the Coors Events Center. The officiating crew of Marc Beasley, Michael Irving, and Deron White took it upon themselves to keep a tight leash on the proceedings in the opening minutes, whistling numerous touch fouls for little or no cause (11 called in 10 minutes). As a Colorado fan, I can tell you that this heavy hand from the zebras knocked forwards Wes Gordon and Tory Miller out of the action with two soft fouls a piece, but a Cal junkie would similarly bemoan the quick whistles against Charlie Moore and Jabari Bird. Regardless of what side you were cheering for on Saturday, though, the result was the same -- quality players who should've been free to play the majority of the half were relegated to the bench for whole stretches. All-in, there were 18 fouls called in the opening frame, two more than there were field goals scored. Officials should be there to keep the play clean and facilitate an open and honest expression of the sport. Instead, over the opening 20 minutes in Boulder, this trio did the exact opposite, wrenching the life out of the action before it even had a chance to flourish. The play to that point had not been overly physical, it had not been aggressive. The stripes just came to town with an itchy trigger finger and laid waste to anything that moved.
The end result in the 1st half was this: 47 total points scored, a combined shooting percentage of 27.6, and 32.5% of all minutes played by reserves. Colorado, without their best forwards, was eviscerated on the glass, getting out-rebounded by nine. Cal, starved for points without their guards, were unable to capitalize and score, leading to a hilarious series of missed bunny layups. Simply, one of the worst halves of basketball I have ever been subjected to, and a situation wholly to blame on the refs for having no sense of rhythm, circumstance, or process. A pox on the house of officials everywhere.
Luckily for Colorado, the game did not simply end at halftime out of a sense of shame. Instead, we got a second half of action, within which the Buffs were able to right the ship. Wes Gordon returned with a lot of energy and started attacking the defensive paint with a sense of purpose. He would pick up three blocks in the final frame, and, while he wouldn't score, seemed to help settle things down under the rim. George King recorded his only points of the second half with a monster put-back dunk that brought the crowd to life for the first time all game. He also grabbed eight boards, helping CU out-rebound the Golden Bears by six after halftime. Derrick White and Xavier Johnson, on their senior day, combined for 25 points in the final 20 home minutes of their careers. White even closed out the game with a desperation three after nearly falling out-of-bounds with the shot clock ticking towards zero. While not perfect, Colorado at least seemed to be in a much better way after the break, looking much more like themselves. By the final horn, they clearly deserved the 54-46 victory.
Cal, however, continued to struggle. After shooting 30% in the 1st, their hit rate from the field dropped to 24% in the 2nd, and just 1-8 from deep. That translates to 0.72 points per possession, and just 11-40 from inside the arc. CU was doing a good job on defense, but the Golden Bears were also missing open looks while settling for static, unimaginative sets. Overall, they looked nothing like a team competing for a NCAA Tournament berth. All things considered, and including their dismal performance against Utah from earlier in the week, Cal doesn't even appear to be NIT-worthy, at this point. Whatever happened in Berkeley to jump this group off the tracks, it was decisive -- they're completely lost right now on the basketball court.
Still, kudos to the Buffs for coming through in the regular season finale. With NIT hopes on the line, they played gritty, determined basketball, fighting through poor officiating and a 1st half disaster on the boards to power through to victory. It was the kind of closing ability the team was desperately missing earlier this year, and something that should serve them well in post-season action.
And, with that, attention turns to the Pac-12 Tournament. Thanks to this win and the predicted belly-flop from Arizona State against the UofA, Colorado finished 7th in the league. This means the Buffs will get Washington State in the 7/10 game on Wednesday, a 7 pm MT tip from T-Mobile Arena. It also sets up a potential quarterfinal matchup with Arizona, something that any trip to Las Vegas just wouldn't be the same without (exasperated *sigh* implied). I'll be back on Wednesday with some more specific thoughts on Colorado's place in the bracket, but, for now, I will say this is about as good as the team could hope for, and that they have an excellent chance to both swing past WSU and give the Wildcats a game. Any more than that, however, and you're dancing for rain.