TULSA, Okla. -- Arizona is living on Tulsa time.
Texas died on it Sunday.
Tulsa time, as calculated by veteran official Richard Cartmell, is a very brisk five seconds. Or less. Judging from replays of his inbounds count that changed the course of the Arizona-Texas NCAA tournament game at the BOK Center, it was just four waves of the arm that pre-empted Longhorns guard Cory Joseph's desperate attempt to call a timeout.
“I had five seconds before the kid turned and signaled a timeout,” explained Cartmell, part of a crew that included Jim Burr, who seems to attract controversy this month the way Arizona star Derrick Williams attracts double-teams.
The result of Cartmell’s count was a violation that gave Arizona one last chance, down by two points. Williams took it from there, as he often has, scoring an acrobatic layup and subsequent free throw with 9.6 seconds left to snatch a 70-69 victory from the bewildered Longhorns.
Arizona had to weather a final drive by Texas guard J'Covan Brown and an ensuing melee of a rebound. For the second straight game, the final seconds -- and the officials' interpretation of those final seconds -- went the Wildcats' way. They won two games here by a total of three points, with plenty of controversy along for the ride.
There was no call on a Williams shot block of Memphis' Wesley Witherspoon on Friday when Witherspoon went up with the potential tying layup, even though replays showed plenty of contact on the play. And now there is this ending, which featured a final 20 seconds rife with whistles (and non-whistles) that had both sides fuming.
The four key plays were these:
1. Trailing 69-67, Williams got the ball on the block and attempted a post move on Texas' Tristan Thompson (and others helping on the play). Williams faced up into the tall Texas bodies and attempted a shot that ended up coming off the left-hander’s right hand. It missed everything, backboard included.
“Obviously, I thought I got fouled,” Williams said. “I’m not going to miss the rim by 10 feet. I think he hit my elbow.”
Arizona coach Sean Miller angrily agreed. After Jordan Hamilton rebounded the air ball and called a fateful timeout (more on that later), Miller tore into the officials. At the end of the timeout, as the players returned to the court, Miller walked to the baseline, glared for a long time at Cartmell and yelled at least twice, “That was a foul!”
2. The five-count, against desperate full-court denial defense from the Wildcats. It seems unlikely that such a broadside from a coach would have an effect on a veteran like Cartmell, but what followed mere moments later could be construed as the mother of all make-up calls. It certainly was the most impactful five-count of March.
ESPN’s “SportsCenter” put a clock on the count and timed it at 4.76 seconds. Whether an official should be charbroiled over .24 seconds is a matter of personal taste (and quite likely team allegiance). But the de facto clock in that situation is supposed to be the ref’s arm, with one gesture for each second. And video of that shows at best an abbreviated fifth gesture.
“I was a little surprised,” Williams said of the call. “I thought he had called time.”
Said Texas coach Rick Barnes, without having seen replays of the call: “I just hope it was a legit five-second count. I can live with some of the other things because it’s a tough game to officiate. But counts, there’s no reason not to get them right. … Every time.”
3. On Williams’ move for the winning points, his drive to the basket was impeded by childhood friend and former AAU teammate Hamilton, who slid in between the basket and the onrushing Arizona power forward.
Hamilton was called for a blocking foul. He said he felt no contact on the play, although both he and Williams went to the floor.
Williams only added to his growing late-game legend by flipping the ball in off the glass. Without looking.
“I was looking down so I could catch myself from a hard fall,” Williams said. “I was surprised it went in, actually. I didn’t know it went in until MoMo [Jones] picked me up.”
After it went in, a guy who had made just 3 of 9 free throws in the second half calmly swished the and-one for the go-ahead point.
4. On Texas’ final possession, Brown drove the ball at the Arizona defense. After repeatedly hurting the Wildcats by driving to his left, this time he went right. There was some contact on the drive as three defenders converged on Brown, but nothing violent.
“Every player’s going to think he got fouled in that situation,” Brown said. “But it’s hard for the refs to call it when the game’s on the line. But things happen.”
Brown’s shot was off the mark and teammate Gary Johnson soared for the offensive rebound. There was all kinds of contact then, but the officials conferred before leaving the court and determined that any foul that might have occurred came after the final buzzer.
And with that, Jim Burr & Co. mercifully got out of Tulsa.
It’s unfortunate that recapping an excellent game like this begins with a recitation of controversial officiating calls. Unfortunate but necessary.
The endgame issues obscure the outstanding coaching job by Miller, who clearly had the superior game plan early as underdog Arizona raced to an 11-point halftime lead. Even with his second-leading scorer Jones playing a miserable game (scoreless on six missed shots) and Texas limiting Williams’ effectiveness, Miller found other Wildcats to step up.
Freshman Jordin Mayes, who is averaging fewer than five points per game and until Sunday had not scored in double digits since Dec. 1, lit up Texas for 16 stunning points. In two games in Tulsa, Mayes made 8 of 9 shots, including all five 3-point attempts. Forward Solomon Hill (averaging 7.8 points and 4.5 rebounds) attacked the interior for 16 points and eight rebounds. Guard Brendon Lavender, who had scored a total of seven points in his previous eight games, hit two big 3s and finished with eight improbable points.
“We’ve got a 10-man rotation,” Williams said. “The first five don’t always get it done.”
The endgame issues also overshadowed a determined comeback by the Longhorns, who gradually pried control of the game away from Arizona. Texas did that with a strong second half from Hamilton (who finished with 18) and Brown (who made all 13 of his free throws on his way to a game-high 23 points).
Texas led for a total of seven minutes, but it appeared to have the game in hand when Hamilton brought his hands together in what proved to be a fatal decision with 14.5 seconds left. His timeout call after gathering in Williams’ air ball was a curious one -- he wasn’t pressured at the moment by any Wildcats, and the smart play would have been to hold the ball until he was fouled.
But the timeout call set up the inbounds call. And that set up the Arizona escape that happened just in time. Tulsa time.