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Zulgad: Perfect ending: Lack of investment was key to getting most from Auburn-Virginia finish

MINNEAPOLIS — Virginia’s Kyle Guy was fouled by Auburn’s Samir Doughty as he attempted a three-point shot with his team trailing by two just before the second-half buzzer sounded in the first semifinal in the Final Four on Saturday night at U.S. Bank Stadium.

The problem was the officiating crew of Doug Sirmons, Keith Kimble and James Breeding had let so much go all night that even the public address announcer declared Auburn’s victory complete before the officials told him otherwise. Guy stepped to the line, hit all three of his free throws, and Virginia had an improbable 63-62 victory and a berth in Monday’s title game.

This came after the officiating crew missed a clear double-dribble by Virginia’s Ty Jerome that also occurred with Auburn leading by two and time running down. Jerome attempted to get free from Bryce Brown by dribbling behind his back. The ball, however, went off his heel without being touched by a Tigers players and Jerome picked it up and dribbled again. Auburn should have been given possession with under three seconds to play and the game should have been theirs but …

The initial reaction from this space is simple: Can’t we get through a game of huge significance in 2019 without officials messing it up? The NFL had this issue in both the NFC title game and the Super Bowl. As much as Auburn coach Bruce Pearl talked about all the other storylines that should be focused on after his team’s loss, he knows full well that the missed double dribble and the late foul on Doughty will be what everyone talks about when the game is brought up either Sunday or in five years.

If you’re a Virginia fan, you were jubilant as you left U.S. Bank. If you were an Auburn fan, you were crestfallen. And if you were just a fan of college basketball, you might have been in the best position possible. Assuming you could get past the embarrassment of the missed call, you had been treated to what makes it so great to watch a big-time sporting event with no rooting interest.

I spent all week lamenting the absence of college basketball powerhouses such as Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky and Gonzaga in this Final Four. Part of the attractiveness of having the Final Four in your backyard is the fact that you think there’s a good chance you’ll get to see Zion Williamson put on a clinic on the biggest stage possible.

Virginia was the only top-seed to make it to Minneapolis. Otherwise, we had a second-seed (Michigan State), a three-seed (Texas Tech) and a fifth-seed (Virginia).

But the Tigers and Cavaliers gave us an entertaining, back-and-forth game in which Virginia held a 10-point lead in the second half before Auburn made a furious rally. If you didn’t care who won, that’s all you wanted. A close game, good action, heck, a controversial finish to debate before moving onto the nightcap between Texas Tech and Michigan State.

Pearl attempted to say all the right things in the aftermath of what had to be the most devastating loss of his coaching career. You couldn’t help but feel for Auburn’s Jared Harper and Bryce Brown as they sat at the podium alongside Pearl and did their best to answer questions without breaking down.

You knew Pearl had to be seething about the non-call on the double-dribble. Pearl also made a not-so-subtle reference to the fact that a foul is a foul is a foul, meaning the call made against Doughty should have been made all night.

It wasn’t and Pearl wasn’t wrong.

But that’s the beauty of being a sports fan who doesn’t care which team wins. Auburn and Virginia had given us great entertainment — the officials had given us controversy — and that is the recipe for a quality evening of viewing and debate.

Sometimes it pays not to be overly invested.


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