MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Virginia looked done.
Everything changed with one slight bump, one whistle and three clutch free throws — along with a pretty big no-call moments earlier.
Kyle Guy hit three free throws with 0.6 seconds left to help the Cavaliers beat Auburn 63-62 in a wild, controversial finish Saturday night that put the refs at the center of the national semifinals of the NCAA Tournament.
It’s the result of a sequence that will be long discussed, with official James Breeding whistling Samir Doughty for a bump on Guy’s desperation 3-point shot, and a no call moments earlier on what many Auburn fans say was a double dribble.
“Survive and advance,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said, “I guess that’s taking on a new meaning.”
Doughty’s torso made contact with Guy’s right thigh as he elevated for the twisting shot, even as Doughty extended his arms skyward and he almost leaned backward in an attempt to avoid the contact.
It was too late.
Guy’s shot bounced off the rim as the horn sounded in what appeared to be an Auburn win. Guy even began to cover his face with his jersey as the shot missed as though thinking his season was over — though he said afterward he heard the whistle immediately.
“That was me focusing,” Guy said.
Still, it took a few confusing moments before it was clear there had been a foul call, prompting a wave of stunned cheers from Virginia fans and furious boos from Auburn supporters.
“I thought it was going to be a no-call,” Auburn center Austin Wiley said, “but he made the call.”
Doughty said he was focused on trying to stay close to Guy — who had made a key 3-pointer moments earlier — but not fouling him.
“They missed some calls and they made some calls, but like I said, that’s why they’re reffing the Final Four because they’re the best of the best,” Doughty said. “You’ve got to trust their decision that they make on that floor.”
Officials reviewed a replay and confirmed Guy’s feet were behind the arc. Guy made the first two free throws to tie it, then came out of an Auburn timeout to hit the third and put Virginia ahead.
The Tigers’ final heave downcourt for a desperation catch-and-shoot 3 from Brown wasn’t close.
This time, however, it was the end.
“NCAA needs to get some new refs,” Auburn guard Bryce Brown said after as the team made its way back to the locker room.
In a statement, national officiating coordinator J.D. Collins said that Breeding had ruled that Doughty moved into an airborne shooter while crowding into his landing spot to violate a rule governing “verticality.”
Virginia players mobbed Guy on the court and Cavaliers fans celebrated wildly, continuing their rise from the rubble following an unprecedented 16-vs-1 upset loss to UMBC last season. It was also the Cavaliers’ second straight tournament escape, following Mamadi Diakite’s buzzer-beating shot to force overtime on the way to beating Purdue in last weekend’s South Region final.
Auburn fans, however, were irate.
Auburn assistant coach Steven Pearl, son of head coach Bruce Pearl, ran part of the way across the court after the buzzer, shouting at the officials before departing. The officials soon sprinted off to the tunnel for their exit amid a few obscene gestures and insults hurled their way from the nearby Auburn student section, where shock had given way to fury.
Police escorted away a few of the most unruly fans. Others walked away from floor seats in tears.
There was frustration, too, that a key non-call went against the Tigers only moments earlier.
Virginia’s Ty Jerome dribbled a ball off his ankle while trying to go behind his back. He picked up the ball, then kept dribbling with about 3 seconds let near halfcourt in what CBS rules official Gene Steratore declared a missed double-dribble during the broadcast. Yet replays also showed Brown as the defender snagging Jerome’s jersey as the Tigers were trying to foul and disrupt Virginia’s offense with plenty of fouls to give.
Collins declined comment on that play.
The plays turned out to be the cappers of a wild tournament run for the fifth-seeded Tigers that had seen them take down bluebloods Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky in succession to win the Midwest Region and reach their first Final Four.
Yet that tournament run very nearly ended in the first round with an eerily similar foul call.
It was in Salt Lake City where Auburn fouled a 3-point shooter for New Mexico State while protecting a slim lead with 1.1 seconds left. That time, though, Terrell Brown missed two of three free throws to help Auburn survive 78-77.
The foul happened again. This time, the free throws fell through to end the Tigers’ romping ride.
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Virginia looked done.