"Sixth man" technical foul with three-tenths of a second left lets Oregon force a second overtime

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Dec. 31 in Pullman looked like an innocent opener on the Pac-10 basketball schedule. Suddenly, it could be so much more.

What if Oregon’s 91-89 double-overtime victory is the one that nudges the suddenly menacing Ducks (10-4) into the NCAA tournament in March? And what if the loss keeps WSU (11-3) out?

The controversial end to the first overtime has already reached the highest echelon of oversight in NCAA basketball officiating. Pac-10 coordinator of officials Bill McCabe has discussed it with NCAA officials coordinator John Adams, who has taken it up with Ed Bilik, veteran secretary-editor of the rules committee.

“In my four years on the job,” McCabe said Tuesday, “this is the most unpleasant one.”

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McCabe said Adams told him, in reference to the debate, “We don’t want our games to end this way. It’s not good for college basketball.”

The fact they’ve stimulated national discussion is no consolation to the Cougars, who did everything imaginable short of beating the Ducks.

And then they beat themselves.

To review: DeAngelo Casto flipped in a two-footer in the lane with three-tenths of a second left in overtime, and WSU had a two-point lead.

A WSU player came off the bench, well inside the three-point arc, and snapped a towel in the direction of Casto in celebration. A fan followed the player out to a similar position.

Oregon’s Michael Dunigan grabbed the ball from the net, took a couple of steps toward the UO bench and then turned and gave it to guard Malcolm Armstead, who apparently wasn’t immediately on the baseline to inbound. About then or just after, officials blew the whistle and stopped play.

Ducks coach Ernie Kent beseeched officials for a technical foul and got it, and Tajuan Porter prolonged the game with two free throws. The NCAA rulebook calls for a technical foul for “delaying the game by preventing the ball from being promptly made live or by preventing continuous play, such as bench personnel entering the playing court before player activity has been terminated.”

Says McCabe, “It would have been very unfair for Oregon to try to inbound the ball with more than five [WSU] players on the court … a foot or two [off the bench], you can ignore.”

There’s dispute over whether, by the time Oregon tried to inbound, the fan and player were still cluttering the floor, but nobody seems to have video to reinforce it. That’s important because the rulebook also stipulates, “When the delay does not interfere with play, it shall be ignored.”

Further aggravating WSU’s pain is that with three-tenths of a second left, the rules say a ball can’t be caught and shot, it can only be tipped. So the chance of Oregon scoring from 94 feet away was minuscule.

But it’s a rule, in black and white, on how to deal with off-the-bench celebrations.

“I’ve told [officials], if it’s a judgment call, I’ll back you to the end,” said McCabe. “I know how hard judgment is. But don’t you set aside a rule on me.”

The impact was rotten, but it’s hard to conclude the ruling was. My question: If you’re a player or fan about to rush the court in celebration, wouldn’t it be a good idea to take a look at the clock first?

McCabe says a likely outcome is a tightened interpretation of the rule, mandating that an official would have to start the inbounds count or the player would have to begin his throwing motion.

“The officials are very, very depressed,” McCabe says. “Nobody likes the ending to this thing.”

There’s an old saw that says officials should let players decide the games. But that’s supposed to mean five players, not six.

Troy Story

USC (10-4) is at once the hottest but also the most reeling Pac-10 program, having just imposed a postseason ban in answer to charges that ex-coach Tim Floyd paid O.J. Mayo.

Now there will be no No. 10 team in the Pac-10 tournament, and thus, only a single first-round game opening night between teams 8 and 9. The most pregnant question, though, is whether USC is trying to get the NCAA to ease off on its long-running dealings with the football program.

“I don’t see that being the situation at all,” said USC coach Kevin O’Neill. “That picture, to me, doesn’t fit.”

Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or bwithers@seattletimes.com

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