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That Missed Goaltend May Not Have Cost Northwestern the Game, But It Sure Felt Like It Did

A four-point swing on a blown call stopped the Wildcats’ upset bid in its tracks

(Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

I had totally come to terms with Northwestern getting the living crap kicked out of it. The Wildcats were in the tournament for the first time ever, and they made the second round. I was cool with 1-seeded Gonzaga pasting them, and the Bulldogs jumped out to a 34–12 lead in the first half.

But Northwestern came roaring back in the second half, for reasons I can’t fully explain. The Wildcats were drilling 3s. They were limiting Gonzaga’s Przemek Karnowski and Zach Collins, each miles better than any Northwestern big man. At one end of the floor, Northwestern’s Vic Law finished a putback jam to cut the lead to five. At the other end, Northwestern’s Scottie Lindsey swatted Gonzaga star Nigel Williams-Goss. Then Gonzaga committed a blatant goaltend on the other end of the floor, hypothetically cutting the lead to three.

Except it wasn’t called goaltending. And Northwestern coach Chris Collins picked up a technical after running up on the referees to insist it was.

The Gonzaga play obviously was goaltending — technically basket interference, as a player is not allowed to “reach through the basket from below and touch the ball before it enters the cylinder.” The missed call falls into a weird category. An incorrect basket interference call is a “correctable error,” and referees are allowed to take points off the board after a review. They’re also allowed to add points to the board if they wave off a bucket for offensive basket interference, but find that the call shouldn’t have been made. But they’re not allowed to review a call they never made in the first place. I suppose this makes sense — if they were allowed to review everything, there could be a problem with game length. But there should be a YO, HE PUT HIS ARM THROUGH THE BASKET exception, for when a player sticks his freakin’ arm through the basket and none of the refs say anything.

But Collins also probably shouldn’t have been so demonstrative about yelling at the referees. Gonzaga used the technical free throws to take a seven-point lead. Northwestern never threatened again, and Gonzaga prevailed, 79–73.

A coach picking up a technical can have some value, alerting the referee to a mistake. But there’s no way that, with five minutes remaining in the game, that value came anywhere close to the value of the two points Gonzaga scored on the technical free throws. The Bulldogs were only called for one foul the rest of the way.

Sports are dumb. I’m hurt by the loss, mad a call was missed, bewildered by the arbitrariness of review rules, proud of Collins for fighting against a basketball injustice, and simultaneously frustrated at Collins for letting his emotions cost the team. But most of all, I guess I’m just happy at Northwestern for being much better than I had ever hoped. They made the NCAA tournament and won a game and then almost won another!

I could write a few thousand words about all those emotions, or I could just let this kid summarize them in a second.