The final score was 71-65. The North Carolina Tar Heels’ six point win against the Gonzaga Bulldogs in Monday’s NCAA title game should’ve been an all-time contest. If not the two best teams in the nation, the pair were definitely in the top five.
A North Carolina team that lost in excruciating fashion last season on a buzzer-beater had a chance to right its wrongs. A Gonzaga squad that has painstakingly built itself into a mid-major juggernaut finally shooed the monkey off its back to make the national championship game.
This matchup had a few of the most talented big men in college basketball, NBA players out the wazoo and fewer than 10 losses between the two teams. There were 11 ties and 12 lead changes throughout the 40 minutes. It should’ve been fun watching this game.
All of the pieces were there, yet the men in black-and-white stripes upstaged the actual competitors. Usually, we go overboard in our admonishing of the refereeing, but the backlash to Monday’s “game” and the tournament as a whole is merited.
Thanks to 44 total fouls and 52 free throws combined, we watched a glorified free-throw contest that had little to no excitement despite the high stakes. Gonzaga big men Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins found themselves riding the pine due to foul trouble, and so did North Carolina’s Kennedy Meeks and Isaiah Hicks. The one time the officials should’ve blown their whistles, when Meeks’ hand was obviously out of bounds on a crucial call, the refs stayed silent. With that said, the game was never called unfairly or subjectively — just poorly.
Along with the fact that the best players were forced to sit due to foul trouble and watch along with the rest of us, the game never hit a groove due to the disjointed feel. The Bulldogs’ Karnowski, in particular, missed around the rim often. This is partly due to just a bad showing, but I believe the choppiness of the game screwed with his play as it did with everyone on the court.
After North Carolina’s victory against Kentucky in the Elite Eight, hundreds of Wildcat fanatics took to Facebook to trash one of the referees, John Higgins. Higgins, along with many other referees, is only part-time.
Higgins’ construction company, Weatherguard Inc., found itself being trolled online constantly after the close game. The attacking of someone’s business due to qualms with his refereeing is certainly a problem. But so is the fact that the NCAA’s officials are part-time employees making calls that will sway a game and possibly the entire tournament.
It was a shame what happened Monday. Instead of discussing the legacy of Roy Williams or the enjoyment of a back-and-forth contest or Gonzaga’s rise to where it is as a program or just anything about basketball, we’re talking about the refereeing. Again.
UNC won 71-65. But honestly, we all lost.