Hofheinz Pavilion was a rather interesting place to be on Saturday night. There was the Houston Cougars playing a conference opponent in front a national television audience. There was a close game that saw the Cougars down by only one point with 1:19 remaining in the game.
Oh, yeah, and there was some of the worst so-called officiating at a basketball game seen in years. And if Conference USA ever really wants to be taken seriously, then it's going to need to find someway to prevent some of the things witnessed in Saturday's 86-80 Tulsa win over the Cougars.
There was an instant in the first half when an official stopped a Cougar fast break because a Tulsa player who was nowhere near the action lost his shoe. There was another official who lost track of the number of free throws a Tulsa player was supposed to be shooting, and attempted to cheat the player out of one. There was the instance when Aubrey Coleman had to stand at the free throw line for several minutes between free-throw shots while an official tried to figure out on whom he had actually called the foul.
Oh yeah, and then there were two fans ejected from the arena by the officiating crew despite the fans not actually doing anything.
If there's anything that ruins a potentially good basketball game, it's a game where neither team is allowed to actually play basketball because the referees are too busy blowing the whistle on non-existent fouls.
The Cougars lost this game not because of the officiating -- their loss can be attributed, once again, to an inability to hit free throws. But the officials made it almost impossible for the fans to enjoy the game. Still, when the teams got a chance to play basketball, the action was good.
It was a game the Cougars should have won. They made the plays they wanted. They just didn't always get the desired results.
"We executed like we wanted to..." Aubrey Coleman said. "It's a tough loss because we played our tails off. Man, we really, really wanted that. We really wanted that bad."
It looked, several times, as if the Cougars were going to be blown out as Tulsa would begin to go on a run of points aided by the baffling officiating. The Cougars were always able to claw back into the game thanks to the baffling officiating and because they were able to keep composure.
"During the game, I said, look, I'll handle, the best I can, the officials," head coach Tom Penders said. "You guys focus on keeping your poise and your composure. I don't normally get too into it, talking to officials during the game, but today, it was necessary. And the kids really showed tremendous poise under pressure and the heat of battle....I believe they really did."
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And talk to the officials Penders did. As did his assistants. And the Tulsa coaches. And fans in the courtside seats.
"As coaches, we've all agreed not to make comments on [the officiating]," Penders said. But with that statement, Penders seemed to say all that needed to be said about the officiating. And the players maintained their composure in the press room as well as Coleman and Kelvin Lewis appeared to be holding back biting comments when asked their thoughts on the game.
Still, the Cougars should have won the game, and still, the Cougars lost to go 1-1 in C-USA play and 8-7 on the season. The Cougars will return to play on Wednesday night when they host the UTEP Miners at 7 p.m.
SOME MISCELLANEOUS NOTES:
There were two fans ejected from the game by the officiating crew of Lee Cassell, Kevin Mathis, and Emanuel Upton. It would be one thing to eject fans for tossing things onto the court, or for verbally abusing the officials. But some checking after the game revealed that the fans, while upset and shouting about the poor officiating, did not direct profanities or otherwise verbally abuse the officiating crew. Maybe if the officials would have been more concerned about calling the game correctly and less concerned about the fans, they might have done a better job. Then again, an officiating crew that can't keep track of the free throws a player is supposed to be shooting probably shouldn't be anywhere near a basketball court in the first place.