LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — This was James Breeding’s first Final Four, but for basketball officials the story is never warm and fuzzy.
Officiating is not commemorative, even if it’s the first time you get to work the final weekend of the season.
Auburn and Virginia played for their first appearance in a national championship game. Nobody cared that it was an official’s first Final Four, other than people who have followed Breeding’s career in Louisville.
You grind your way to the top, driving across harsh, dark highways in the midwest, east coast and south, working your way from the podunk leagues to the grandest stage in college basketball. You’ve been called things nastier than what people say on social media.
You hustle through the winter, working 64 regular-season games in the Atlantic Coast, Big East, Conference USA, Atlantic 10 and other leagues and finally get the news you've made it to the top of your profession.
Then in the final seconds of a game that will decide which school plays for the national championship Monday, you’re part of a crew that misses a double dribble before you make the call in the final 0.6 seconds that will determine the result,
James Breeding made the call that enabled Virginia to inch past Auburn 63-62 — and he got it right.
Let me say that again: James Breeding got it right.
His crew missed the apparent double-dribble by Virginia guard Ty Jerome after he kicked the basketball and then picked it up and resumed dribbling. Howl about that one for weeks and weeks. Pick it up with two hands and you’re not supposed to dribble again.
But on the call that counted, his call, James Breeding got it right.
Auburn guard Samir Doughty fouled Virginia’s Kyle Guy at the end of Guy’s three-point field goal attempt from the left corner.
Doughty ran into Guy’s right leg before Guy had released his shot,.
That’s a foul if it happens 0.6 seconds into the game. That’s a foul if it happens 0.6 seconds after the third TV timeout. That’s a foul with 0.6 seconds to play and a place in the national championship game at stake.
Credit Breeding, a veteran local official who also had a long and successful career with the Louisville Bats.
Breeding saw contact and he called contact — a call that was backed by CBS officiating analyst Gene Steratore, CBS basketball analysts Seth Davis and Charles Barkley and others.
Breeding got the call without the assistance of multiple replays from multiple angles at multiple speeds.
One of those people was J.D. Collins, the NCAA national coordinator of officiating, who released this statement.
“With 0.6 seconds remaining in tonight’s national semifinal game between Virginia and Auburn, Virginia’s Kyle Guy was fouled on a three-point attempt by Auburn’s Samir Doughty. The call was made by official James Breeding, who ruled that Doughty moved into the airborne shooter, making contact with Guy while taking away his landing spot. The foul was a violation of Rule 4, Section 39.i, which states, 'Verticality applies to a legal position and also to both the offensive and defensive players. The basic components of the principle of verticality are: The defender may not ‘belly up’ or use the lower part of the body or arms to cause contact outside his vertical plane or inside the opponent’s vertical plane.”
This was a national semifinal with extra-strength adrenaline flowing everywhere. Doesn’t matter if Mother Teresa says Breeding got it right, this debate is just getting started and will likely get harsh.
PTI, Around the Horn, radio talk shows from Birmingham to the Twin Cities. Everybody will tee this one -- and Breeding -- up.
Ask John Clougherty, one of the game’s all-time best. He missed a call that gave Michigan the NCAA title over Seton Hall and people are still fussing about it 30 years later. Ask the NFL officials who worked the Saints-Rams NFC championship game. Ask Don Denkinger about the 1985 World Series.
Did I mention that officiating is not a warm and fuzzy business? Sometimes I'm embarrassed by the things I hear people call the officials inside arenas.
The shot clock will have to run a few more times before Breeding’s life is the same because not everybody saw the final seconds of that game the way that Steratore, Davis, Barkley, Collins and I saw it.
Especially in Auburn, after Guy made three free throws to give Virginia its victory and a spot in the NCAA championship game Monday night.
The Auburn players. How do you think they reacted? Less than an hour after the game you could watch a video of Auburn guard Bryce Brown howling that the NCAA needed to get some new refs.
Auburn coach Bruce Pearl responded the way any fan base would want its coach to respond — with utter but professional disbelief.
''My advice ... if that's a foul, call it,'' Pearl said. ''Call it at the beginning of the game, call it in the middle of the game, call it at the end of the game. Don't call it any more or less at any other time during the game.’’
Twitter erupted. Users started inquiring if Breeding had allegiances to any league. Where does he live? What does he do?
Where does he rate among the best officials in the game? How many Final Fours has he worked? There was other toxic junk best not recognized
Even reasonable people like former ESPN football reporter Ed Werder asked Grassy Knoll junk like this:
A lower-body foul at the buzzer that doesn’t appear to effect the shot in the national Semifinals? Hmm.— Ed Werder (@EdwerderRFA) April 7, 2019
That’s Twitter. Twitter did what Twitter does best: Ignited a good, old-fashioned hissing contest.
Wasn’t a foul? Yes, it was. No, it wasn’t.
You don’t call that play at the end of the game. Yes, you do. No, you don’t.
The officials should never decide the game. Yes, they should. No, they shouldn’t.
Yes, it was a foul.
Yes, you call that play at the end of the game.
Yes, the officials decide games. It’s in the job description.
They decide by making the call as much as they would have decided it by not making the call.
James Breeding made the call — and he got it right.
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