Knocked Over In Knoxville

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I wonder what Don Imus was thinking on the morning after.

In a rematch of last year’s women’s NCCA title game against No. 1 Tennessee, the Rutgers women’s basketball team, the subject of Imus’ inappropriate and ill-fated racist remarks that got him fired from CBS Radio last spring, were on the Lady Vols home court in Knoxville Feb. 11.

The seventh-ranked Scarlet Knights, who for the most part handled the shock jock’s stupidity with grace and aplomb last spring, were wronged again. This time by what appeared to be a malfunctioning clock.

Essence Carson hit a step-back jumper to put the Scarlet — actually the Pink Knights last night as they donned unis of that color to support the fight against breast cancer — up one with 20 seconds left. Rutgers, fresh off of dropping UConn, was on the verge of knocking off its second No.1 within a week. 

Division I’s all-time winning hoops coach Pat Summit elected not to a call time-out. A Shannon Bobbitt foul-line springer fell short. That’s when the controversy began.

Candace Parker, arguably the best women’s player in the world this side of Lauren Jackson and Cappy Poindexter, boarded and then sent up a left-handed half-hook with 1.8 seconds that also clanked. The carom went to Nicky Anosike, who grabbed the ball leaning back across her head with what appeared to be 0.2 ticks on the clock. Anosike hadn’t even landed yet, as the clock froze. She was then grabbed by Kia Vaughn. Only after Anosike’s put-back hit the bottom of the rim, did the clock start and finally expire. Did Vaughn’s fifth foul occur before the buzzer? It certainly didn’t look that way. To her credit, Anosike bottomed both free throws to give second-ranked Tennessee a 58-57 lead.

At first, the cynic in me smelled home cooking, a little BBQ perhaps in the Thompson-Boling Arena. Then, thought maybe it was a case of clock-manager incompetence, the person panicked and hit the mechanism before the end moment. Actually, that was left for ESPN2 announce team, but more on that soon. 

Finally, a malfunctioning timepiece appeared to be the culprit, a point that was underscored later when Rutgers’ final desperation pass past half court was deflected out of bounds. The game ended with a 0.2 left — at least on ESPN2’s scorecard.

ESPN2 game analyst Carolyn Peck — who, when asked by play-by-play player Eric Collins what Rutgers should do before Carson hit her go-ahead basked didn’t single out a go-to player or offer a specific X or O, but rather insightfully talked about the team wanting to executw a two- or three-point shot — also came up lame in describing Rutgers’ last-play options. She talked about the Knights probably not being able to make a subsequent pass. Well, as pro hoops fans know only tips are permitted under 0.3 seconds. The only other winning option for Rutgers was to try to get Tennessee to commit a foul on the in-bounds, a penalty that draws a free throw, regardless of the foul situation.

Although no announcer wants to raise the home-court factor in such a situation, Peck and Collins had their out when the ball deflected out of bounds to end the contest. Clearly, there was something wrong with the clock, which still showed 0.2 remaining.

Later, ESPN2 made amends. Kara Lawson, a former Tennessee player, said the foul occurred after the clock should have expired. Stacy Dales, a WNBAer with the Chicago Sky and college basketball analyst, also said Rutgers was wronged. Rece Davis said there were gremlins in the system.

On SportsCenter, ESPN later replayed the final moment, with a real-time clock that indicated it would have taken Anosike 1.3 seconds to rebound, gather, jump, shoot and get fouled.

According to published reports, a Tennessee official, after the game, put the onus on the refs, who control the scoreboard clock via a wireless device on their belts. The three refs weren’t in the building to face the press after the game.

An unhappy Rutgers coach Vivian Stringer was, saying her assistant coach had picked her up in celebration, before the realization: “Oh my God, I don’t believe this, they stopped the clock, they stopped the clock…That’s why there was time for the foul to be committed…This should not be tolerated.”

For the record, a spokeswoman for RFD-TV, which simulcasts Imus’ new radio show, was unaware of the controversial Rutgers’ conclusion, and said the disc jockey didn’t mention it on the air today.