It was refreshing to see college basketball officials getting attention for doing something right. Even better to see a familiar face in the middle of it.
This happened Saturday night, in Butler's breathless win over Pittsburgh in the NCAA tournament. It was surreal to watch: Referees Terry Wymer and Antonio Perry called fouls on consecutive plays in the final seconds of the game, breaking the unwritten college hoops rule to “let 'em play'' at the end of a contest.
The officials were lauded by the network talking heads for being consistent — calling a foul if it's warranted whether it's the first minute or last. They were jaw-dropping calls and absolutely the right calls. Bravo, gentlemen. Too often officials' calls are used as a crutch or excuse for a loss (see Texas-Arizona) when there were any number of calls that went right, or decisions by coaches and players that went wrong. Glad to see officials getting credit for doing what coaches always say they want: call the entire game consistently.
Yes, that was John Higgins, the Big 12/Missouri Valley ref and Omaha resident, in the Butler-Pitt crew. Higgins gets razzed by fans for his looks. They call him “Hollywood'' and “Baywatch.'' He's one of the good ones. He gets his share of flak. As he told a pool reporter afterward, all you can do is your best.
“We do it every day,'' Higgins said. “It just happened to be a crucial part of the game. You have to do what you have to do as an official. If we get it right, we're good. If we get it wrong, we're deadbeats and we're all over ‘SportsCenter.' We did what we think is correct.''
• The first weekend of the NCAA tournament had its exciting moments. But college hoops is getting watered down. Too many teams look the same from a talent standpoint. At some point, Richmond and VCU winning won't be upsets. The charm of this event has always been the Cinderellas taking down the Goliaths. But the giants don't look so big anymore. Make college hoops like college baseball: If kids pick college, they have to stay for three years. It's up to the NBA to do that. Maybe we should make Charles Barkley commissioner.
• I like the NBA TV guys doing the college games. Marv Albert doing college hoops is very cool. Reggie Miller is terrific. It's refreshing having Barkley and Co. doing college games: It may not be their expertise, but they're still basketball guys. And they're brutally frank, because they aren't worried about upsetting the NCAA or any college coaches. Like Sir Charles worries about that anyway.
• Key moment in the Texas-Arizona finish: the timeout with 14 seconds left. If Jordan Hamilton doesn't call time after he gets the rebound, Arizona has to foul him and he can ice the game with free throws. And no five-second call.
• I know there are UNO wrestling folks holding out hope for an 11th-hour miracle at the Nebraska Board of Regents meeting on Friday morning. Expect the 90-minute window for public speaking to be full, and full of emotion and anger. But it's a long shot. For one thing, I don't think John Christensen and Trev Alberts would have taken the actions they have without a strong sense that it would get regents' approval. Second, I don't think the regents will think it's their business to tell a school which programs and sports it should support. That would be a surprise. But I've been surprised before.
• Last week, Bo Pelini said he might take a look at a couple of UNO football players. Yeah, that UNO football is really a threat to Nebraska football.
• Say what you want about Big Ten hockey, but the WCHA will be fine. The WCHA has five teams in the NCAA field — including your UNO Mavericks — and none of them is named Wisconsin or Minnesota. The CCHA could be another story. The WCHA should jump early and invite Notre Dame to join.
• UNO official Dave Ahlers tells me that there's no TV planned for Friday's NCAA game against Michigan, but the school is working on some options. It's also waiting to hear if ESPN will find a local carrier.
• Doc Sadler's two-year extension is about cosmetics more than anything. It's about recruiting and being able to tell a kid that you've got four years on your contract. Doc earned the right to keep going this year. The end was a train wreck, but on Feb. 19, Doc had the Huskers in position to make the NCAA tourney after the win over Texas, their biggest in years. Now they have to learn to finish. If we're back here a year from now talking about the same things — lack of motivation and execution in big games — then that new arena might be used to lure a new coach.
• Smart move by the United Football League to bring in Jerry Glanville as coach and GM for Hartford and, reportedly, Marty Schottenheimer as head coach at Virginia. Star power at head coach makes sense. The coaches are the anchors of the franchise, while the players come and go. I wonder if Elvis has ever been to a UFL game.
• Call me crazy, call me Ishmael, but I could see UNO basketball becoming a place where Nebraska kids can play in Division I and do well. There are a lot of good players in the state who may not be big enough or good enough to play in the Big Ten, or qualify at Creighton, but could certainly do some damage in the Summit League. I think that's going to be a story to watch. Assuming that Mike Denney doesn't pin the regents.
• There was a positive wrestling story in our area last week. His name is Jordan Burroughs. The Nebraska senior wrestler became the school's first two-time national champion. Burroughs was 36-0 this year, the second undefeated season of his career. Too bad Tom Osborne can't give him a two-year extension.
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