College basketball referees have it rough. Make any call against either team, and they’re going to get roasted by one of the fanbases. It’s not an easy job.
That said, those same referees have proven just how frustrating they can be.
They take over the games at times. They call fouls when there isn’t one to call. They take forever to review a play, sucking the life out of a crowd that had just been at its loudest.
In Missouri and Auburn’s matchup Saturday, all of that was on full display.
And if you want one play that perfectly encapsulates the referees’, um, inconsistent performance, here goes:
Right around midway through the second half, Auburn’s Samir Doughty tried for a 3-pointer but missed, and Kobe Brown grabbed the defensive board. Away from the play, Auburn’s Devan Cambridge fell to the ground after getting boxed out and pulled Javon Pickett down with him.
The referees, who didn’t appear to be looking at the two tangled up until they were already on the ground, called a foul on Pickett, who understandably threw his hands in the air in bewilderment. After a long review, and with the entire Missouri crowd (12,506, a season-high for attendance) voicing its displeasure, the officials reversed their original decision and gave Cambridge a Flagrant 2 for stepping on Pickett after the fall.
“I seen the referee say ‘4,’ and I looked at (Cambridge) like, was his number No. 4?” Pickett said. “But it was me. The referee said I fouled him, but then they went and checked and they got everything figured out, squared away.”
“I was told that there was no foul by one of the officials, so, if there wasn’t a foul then why are we going to the monitor?” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “And then we go to the monitor and then all of a sudden we have a flagrant and an ejection, so I still don’t know the answer.”
In last week’s Missouri/Arkansas matchup, 59 fouls were called. It seemed like the referees were gunning for an even higher total throughout Saturday’s contest.
In the midst of the constant whistles, though, Missouri found a way to pull it out.
This is a team that had already upset Florida and nearly knocked off LSU. Though nobody outside of the locker room really gave Missouri a chance, the Tigers knew they had a shot. And with Dru Smith and Xavier Pinson playing lights out (both finished with 28 points), Missouri upset Pearl’s Tigers 85-73 in front of its home crowd.
“I tell my teammates, ‘You can’t control what the refs call or what the refs do. You can only control what you can control, and that’s the game,’” Pinson said. “You got to get a stop without fouling, you got to get a bucket. Score-stop-score situations, and we executed that.”
But still, the whistles can’t be overlooked.
In all, 56 fouls were called on the day. Missouri shot 29 free throws, Auburn shot 46, a higher total than its field goal attempts. For a sport that depends on its fast-paced tempo to engage the fans, the officials constantly blowing the whistle hurts.
“That was tough. I felt like every time we came down the floor there in the second half they called a foul,” Dru Smith. “But I think at the end of the day, we just had to keep coming together, keep huddling up and just keeping everybody locked in for the second 20 minutes.”
This isn’t to say the officials are terrible at their job. Again, it’s a tough job to do. And especially for a Missouri team that’s been in foul trouble pretty much every game this season, the referees can’t always be blamed.
But when you get past the half-century mark in fouls (not even including the technicals called on both sides) and there’s more than a few calls you can argue are blatantly bad, something’s got to change.