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Column: Energy vampires wear black and white stripes

By Tim Fontenault
On January 19, 2014

  • UConn coach Kevin Ollie (right) walks off the floor with assistant coach Kevin Freeman after Ollie's ejection in a 76-64 loss to No. 18 Louisville Saturday at Gampel Pavilion. JON KULAKOFSKY/The Daily Campus

Gampel was rocking. Two of the nation's best teams were chasing each other up and down the floor in a wild, entertaining spectacle that commanded the attention of a national audience.

But with 13:02 left in the clash between UConn and No. 18 Louisville, ESPN's primetime event Saturday night, Niels Giffey was fouled by Wayne Blackshear as Giffey went up for a shot. Giffey missed but still should have been at the stripe with a chance to cut the lead to seven.

Instead, no foul was called, and UConn coach Kevin Ollie was so irate, that referee Mike Stuart quickly called him for two what he explained after the game as "two unsportsmanlike class A technical fouls. The first one was reacting to running down the sideline. The second one was coming on the floor to protest the call."

Instead of being down seven, UConn was down 11, and the calls continued to go against the Huskies as the Cardinals went on to win 76-64.

To blame the officiating for UConn's loss is not entirely justified. Yes, Stuart, Brian O'Connell and the infamous Ted Valentine made some really interesting calls against UConn, especially in the wake of the Ollie ejection, the first of his career. But there was much more to UConn's loss.

There was the fact that the Huskies (14-4, 2-3 American Athletic Conference) were outscored in the paint 40-20. They were outrebounded 45-30. They shot an uncharacteristic 19 of 54 from the field and 8 of 23 from the 3-point line. DeAndre Daniels, who went for 23 points and 11 rebounds at Memphis Thursday night, shot 1 of 9 and spent most of the first half on the bench after two quick fouls, leaving UConn with no one to attack the middle of the Cardinals' zone.

These are all huge factors, and speaking of huge, Montrezl Harrell being allowed to grab 18 points and 13 rebounds does not exactly bode well for anybody playing against Louisville. But regardless of the result on the scoreboard, the referees need to be blamed for something.

They destroyed a heck of a basketball game.

The energy was everything ESPN and the Huskies were hoping for; UConn students began lining up at 9 a.m. Friday, and regardless of how tired they were, they brought the noise and the passion even before the game started.

The game reflected that. It was back-and-forth. It was fun. It was everything college basketball used to be before the new foul rules were installed this year. The refs were actually letting the players play as if it was still a battle in the Big East Conference.

But once Stuart decided to swallow the whistle on a clear foul and punish Ollie with the ejection, the energy disappeared. UConn fans became transfixed on verbally attacking the officials and the players lost their focus.

Louisville was able to stay out in front. UConn was not helping itself for all the reasons above - the rebounding, the shooting, the Montrezl Harrelling - but Valentine and his crew certainly did not help matters.

If you are a fan of humor, and I certainly consider myself a fan of humor, you may have taken a moment to laugh a few minutes after Giffey got hit by Blackshear, for Shabazz Napier went up in the same manner, had no contact made against him whatsoever and made the shot while also being awarded a free throw.

The game became unwatchable. That was the biggest issue. It should be reiterated that UConn deserved to lose that game, but if you are a fan of basketball, more importantly good basketball, you were robbed of the spectacle you thought you were getting about halfway through the broadcast.

Referees are human. They make mistakes, just ask Jim Joyce. Sometimes, they make a call that makes you scratch your head.

But never should a referee be the center of attention after a sporting event. I mentioned Jim Joyce above. Would you know who he was if he had not destroyed Armando Galarraga's perfect game? Probably not. That is the point.

Mike Stuart is going to be a name fans remember after Saturday's game. When he returns to Connecticut to do his job, people will say, "That's the guy who ruined the game against Louisville."

Sometimes, a loss can be exciting. Gampel has seen its share of exciting losses: Georgetown last season, Syracuse the year before that and Louisville and Notre Dame in 2011. This game was well on its way to being an exciting game, win or lose.

Unfortunately for UConn fans, there was an energy vampire on the loose.

Follow Tim on Twitter @Tim_Fontenault

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