CRAWFORD | Ryan's ref rant ends Wisconsin's wonderful run on a s - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Ryan's ref rant ends Wisconsin's wonderful run on a sour note

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AP photo. AP photo.
INDIANAPOLIS (WDRB) — You can complain about the refs. And I can complain about the refs. And, in fact, we should complain about the refs. It's our patriotic duty.

Before Monday night's NCAA Championship game, a 26-year-old bald Eagle named Challenger flew around Lucas Oil Stadium, thrilling the crowd during the signing of the national anthem. Little noticed was the scrap of paper he dropped out of his talon, which, after landing on my laptop, revealed the message, “Pat Driscoll is calling a championship game, are you kidding me?”

(Yes, Pat Driscoll, the same guy who once T'd up Louisville's Kyle Kuric for dunking on a guy too impressively. Kyle Kuric! He cures sick children with his smile. True story. But I digress.)

Complaining about, critiquing, criticizing, castigating, and any other alliterative verb you want to pick in reference to referee  remonstration is an American pastime. We all do it.

But coaches can't do it. Even if you're right — and often when coaches are mad at refs, they are — you can't win if you go after refs. You can try to be clever. You can shade your comments one way or another. I've seen it all, from the offhanded joke to the Rick Pitino “I can't say anything nice so I won't comment” gambit. But no matter what you say, it comes off as ungracious, even when you've been absolutely hosed, or even partially hosed.

So here came Bo Ryan, in the most fraught-with-peril interview in sports, the on-the-court postgame interview with the losing coach. His senior-laden Wisconsin team had just lost 68-63 to Duke and a quartet of freshman so good that they scored all 37 of the Blue Devils' points in the second half.

And Ryan went there.

“It was just a situation where you just have to be able to handle all the hands and the checking,” Ryan told CBS reporter Tracy Wolfson. “All the body contact -- there was more body contact in this game than in any game we've played all year, and I just feel sorry for my guys that all of a sudden, a game was like that. I think they're struggling with that a little bit. We missed some opportunities. They hit some tough shots. You know, it's just a shame it had to be played that way.”

If Kentucky's John Calipari had said that, security guards would have walked over to him, cuffed him, and walked him out of there. He'd have been fined an amount equivalent to the gross domestic product of a small nation. You'd have been able to hear Steven A. Smith weighing in from the parking lot outside.

Do refs affect the outcomes of games? Absolutely. Almost all the time. They botched a shot clock call in Wisconsin's win over Kentucky on Saturday. Flat out missed it. Clock expires, Wisconsin makes a shot, refs miss it. And they say they can't use video to correct it.

They did go to video to check a slap to the face from UK's Trey Lyles to a Wisconsin player, but apparently got sidetracked by the return of Mad Men and let it slide.

On Monday night, it was a ball deflected out of bounds by Duke's Justise Winslow. Video was pretty clear. So, you know how it wound up. Duke ball.

I think they were watching Better Call Saul.

The official explanation from the refs was — oh, that's right. They never have to talk. Refs get more protection than the president.

I can't explain, any more than I can explain why they missed a call in Wisconsin's favor the night before. I guess the closest you can get is, "What goes around comes around."

Here's the bottom line on refs. They make mistakes — but usually not more mistakes than the players make, or the coaches make. But that's increasingly not good enough in a day when we all have high definition television and enough technology to freeze every call of every game at home.

In his postgame news conference, Ryan again went to his refrain that his team led the nation for fewest fouls committed all season. And they don't foul a lot. Or they don't get called for fouls a lot. They're as physical as anyone else. They're just a little better at it.

Ryan was asked if he took issue with the officiating.

“You can't say anything about the officiating. C'mon. Are you trying to set me up?” Ryan said. So when the question was rephrased, Ryan said, “Have you ever watched me during a game? I don't think this was any different. No, we have these things that we practice, okay? We practice in our practices where if an offensive player jumps into you, we always call it on the offensive player. It's just what we do. So there were some situations where obviously our guys felt they were in position. I'm sure they felt they were in the rights. Both teams are always going to feel that there's a question or two. So it's just the way the game's played. But I've been with these guys a long time, and I've watched a lot of basketball. Sometimes games are played differently, and you have to go with the flow.”

In the locker room afterward, Wisconsin's Sam Dekker, who for the first time in the tournament had an off night (6-15 from the field, 0-6 from three), said that putting Duke into the bonus with 11:43 still to play in the game was a factor: “They got to the line and scored with the clock stopped. It felt like that's all they did in the second half was make free throws.”

Duke outshot Wisconsin from the line 16-3 in the second half. It was a factor. But Duke also had the presence to realize that its guards could take Wisconsin's off the dribble, and became aggressive going to the rim, especially after falling behind by nine with 13:25 to play in the game.

And Duke was dealing with foul trouble of its own. It played a large segment of the second half without freshman All-American Jahlil Okafor. Forward Justise Winslow was saddled with foul trouble, too.

I don't want to leave you with the idea that Dekker was bitter, however. This is another thing to consider. Sometimes, the quotes you see are what reporters want you to see. You don' see the totality of anyone's comments. A guy can spend 10 minutes praising his opponents, but you see the one thing that can be slanted negatively, which came only in response to a question setting him up to answer that way.

“Congrats to Duke,” Dekker said. “I'm proud of our guys. I'm blessed to be on this team. I'm disappointed in myself for my performance tonight. I gave it my all, and I couldn't be prouder to be on this team. I've never been closer to a group of guys and this one hurts. This one hurts. I'm blessed to be in this position to be on the court tonight, but this one's tough.”

And one more thing. After the quote above, about the free-throws, Dekker said these words. See if the continuation of this quote makes you feel different about what he said: “It's all they did in the second half was make free throws. Tyus (Jones) was Tyus. He hit some big shots. Grayson (Allen) had a great game. When those guys play like that they're a completely different animal and they earned it.”

See? Far less pouting and far more gracious. Sometimes, the media creates the story, then we flame it. It's not always our finest moment.

(Parenthetical comment: Whoever decided that it was the media's duty to file through the locker room of a team that has just been bounced from the tournament and ask every decent player if he's coming back or turning pro, well, you're not my favorite person. I know it's news. I know the public wants to know. But asking in that moment, to me, just seems wrong. So I don't. Probably not journalistically sound on my part. But there you go.)

And then there's one other place Ryan went. He was asked if it would be hard to say goodbye to his seniors. Here's how he replied.

“Oh, without a doubt,” he said. “All the seniors that I've had -- hard to say the word. But every player that's played through the program, okay, we don't do a rent-a-player. You know what I mean? Try to take a fifth-year guy. That's okay. If other people do that, that's okay. I like trying to build from within. It's just the way I am. And to see these guys grow over the years and to be here last year and lose a tough game, boom, they came back. They said what they wanted to do, they put themselves into that position, and they won't forget this for a long time. I told them that's life. Wait till you get a job. Wait till you start the next 60 or 70 years of your life. It's not always going to work out the way you would like it to. But you measure a person by what it takes to discourage them.”

You also measure them by how they respond in their most discouraging moments. We saw some guys come up short in those moments at this Final Four. Maybe it should be a point of emphasis going forward. (Quick aside: To those writing me wanting me to rip Andrew Harrison for his rant or Calipari for not punishing him more, I figure Harrison's misguided moment is well on its way to becoming an Internet meme, and that may be punishment enough.)

Wisconsin is a great team with great players. It was a great story all season. But rent-a-players? That implies something a little more sinister than one-and-dones. Let's be honest. They're all rent-a-players. The only thing that differs is the length of the lease.

In the end, the only damage those kinds of responses do are to your own program. You leave a final image that doesn't match the great story you wrote to get to this stage. It may feel good to say such things, but it doesn't look good.

(No refs, or Eagles, were harmed in the writing of this column.)

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