There was a lot to be learned from Auburn’s crushing defeat at the hands of Virginia Saturday in the Final Four.
We learned the old basketball adage of “don’t ever foul the jump shooter” is probably a good one to follow. We learned no matter how many officials are on the court, there will always — and I mean always — be more wannabe refs watching the game on television waiting to criticize the real ones. We also learned being a basketball Blue Blood may not be a prerequisite to making the Final Four anymore.
The biggest takeaway, though, should have been both Auburn and Virginia’s players poured their hearts out for their respective schools. It wasn’t the prettiest, sexiest or cleanest game, but the intensity and passion were top notch.
Virginia’s patience, Auburn’s never-say-die attitude and both team’s ability to withstand body blows were all impressive to watch. And regardless of your take on the much-discussed foul call, the sheer nerves it took for Kyle Guy to knock down three straight free throws for a shot to play in the national championship was amazing.
Despite a few heat-of-the-moment comments on the long walk back to the locker room from an Auburn player or two (comments which were later elaborated upon and mostly apologized for), both programs also represented themselves with class and grace. Meanwhile, Charles Barkley and AU coach Bruce Pearl, two guys who are no strangers to controversy, handled their disappointment as well as any two men could. It’s no easy task to be gracious in defeat when you get as emotionally invested as that pair does. I sincerely salute their good sportsmanship.
The shame of the game wasn’t in any call from an official, but more from fans’ reactions afterwards. It is certainly understandable for the Auburn fan base to be upset after a controversial loss. To drop a contest of that magnitude in that fashion is gut-wrenching.
It is also certainly understandable for Alabama fans to experience schadenfreude as its archrival loses a game with about a second left in a very memorable way so now the AU “Got a Second” shirts from the 2013 Iron Bowl can have an ironic double meaning.
However, the vitriol spewed all over Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat (well, I shouldn’t include Shapchat; I don’t know how that platform works so its guilt is unverified) simply went off the rails.
I realize social media is built for moments like last Saturday. After all, no one tweets things like, “I had a very nice day today.” No, comments have to be limited to a few fiery sentences of absolutes like “This game is fixed!” and “My team was absolutely robbed by the refs!” or the comments are not considered worthy of posting.
But people seriously that game was fixed? Really? In whose favor? If it was Virginia’s, why didn’t the Cavaliers cover the spread when they had a double-digit lead late in the game? Did the officials collaborate during a TV timeout to tell one another, “Look, if you see a UVA player commit a turnover, just let it slide?”
You know how hard it is to fix a close game that’s being watched by eight million people? It’s practically impossible.
Did the officials truly “rob” a team? The last called foul was a foul, plain and simple. Now, there is no doubt a double dribble by Virginia was missed a game second or so prior to that foul, but the slow-motion video also shows what could have easily been called a foul by AU’s Bryce Brown before the dribble was, uh, doubled.
By the way, this article isn’t pointed at Auburn alone; had the ref not called the foul leading to the three clutch free throws by UVA, can you imagine how upset Cav nation would be? The acidity on social media would be the same, just in a different shade of orange and blue. In fact, no matter the fan base, it would be the same. Fans of all programs don’t seem to handle loss nearly as well as those who actually lost!
It should also be noted referees miss calls — a lot of them, all the time. They missed one by Jared Harper which created a frustration/retaliation foul by Virginia and sparked the Tigers late game run. In fact, the officials swallowed their whistles in the SEC Tournament when no fewer than three Auburn players fouled a Florida shooter looking for a last-second tie. That AU win helped catapult the Tigers and strengthened the team’s chemistry leading to an eventual SEC Tourney title. Missed calls happen; sometimes to your advantage and sometimes not.
No one was robbed. The game wasn’t fixed. It was just all a part of the sports tapestry. We were all entertained. Someone just ended up on the wrong side of the score. The coaches and players showed class. So should we.
Once you work past the heartbreak, it’s a great life lesson: Even when you give it your all, sometimes you may not get the result you expect, but even more respect can be earned by how you handle the aftermath.
Luke Robinson is a regular columnist, contributor to BMetro, AHSAA Radio Network Broadcaster and Sportzblitz Team Member.