Stringer devastated, awaiting explanation after controversial finish
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Even C. Vivian Stringer, always the loquacious one, struggled to find the right words.She also struggled to fight back the tears, as did her Rutgers players. Losing to Tennessee -- which presumably will be the No. 1 team in the country when Tuesday's ESPN/USA Today poll is released -- on its home floor was one thing. But to lose like this, in the final two-tenths of a second, with the game clock seemingly and inexplicably coming down with an acute case of paralysis? It was difficult to tell following Monday night's controversial 59-58 loss whether Stringer was more nauseated, more frustrated or just downright brokenhearted. She had a right to be all three. "The clock froze," a glassy-eyed Stringer said over and over again. "I'll remember that one."
Some controversial women's hoops history might have flashed through your mind after seeing the ending of the Tennessee-Rutgers game Monday night.As everyone who watched on TV saw, the game clock froze on two-tenths of a second. It appeared time should have expired before Rutgers' Kia Vaughn was called for a foul on Nicky Anosike, sending the Tennessee player to the line for two free throws that won the game 59-58. That figure -- 0.2 -- is infamous in NCAA Tournament lore. Go back to 2004, and a Sweet 16 game in Norman, Okla., between Tennessee and Baylor. The score was tied 69-69, and Tennessee got a steal and two shots at the basket. After the second miss, Tennessee's Tasha Butts and Baylor's Jessika Stratton collided on the rebound. Official Charles Gonzalez called the foul on Stratton with two-tenths of second left, and Butts made both free throws as Tennessee advanced. I was at Lloyd Noble Center that night, and in 12 years of writing for ESPN.com, that still ranks first in terms of the most e-mail I've ever received after a specific game. Some "issues" have produced more reader response, but no specific game I've ever covered got people so riled up -- both objecting to and defending that call. The other women's hoops moment that popped into my mind Monday was the "Time Stops in Tuscaloosa" game, during the 1998 NCAA Tournament. UCLA led host Alabama by one point with eight-tenths of a second remaining. And then the officials fell asleep. The Crimson Tide ran along the baseline, illegally, before inbounding the ball. But it wasn't called. Then the clock didn't start when the ball was first touched. It stayed frozen until it was tipped to LaToya Caudle, who nailed a 15-footer to win the game. So much more than 0.8 of a second went by that it was utterly absurd, the equivalent of a shot in tennis being 5 feet out but called "in." And the officials immediately raced off the floor, leaving chaos in their wake. The NCAA did take action after that, as its women's hoops rules committee in the summer of 1998 formulated an educational program for officials in regard to clock management. Longtime referee and secretary-rules editor for the women's committee Marcy Weston said back then, "The program will center on what the officials should do if they determine that a problem exists in the last few seconds of a game. "In such a case, the referee will go to the scorer's table and remain at the table until the situation is remedied and the final score is approved. Review of the television monitor and information available from the scorer's table personnel can be used in making this determination. The unfortunate situation at the end of the UCLA vs. Alabama game clearly suggested to the committee the need for fine-tuning of the clock management procedures." Ten years later, though, we see that sometimes "clock glitches" still happen. -- ESPN.com's Mechelle Voepel
And while Stringer admirably did her best not to pull Tennessee or Summitt into the fray, she left little doubt that, in her mind, the win was tainted."This should not be tolerated," she said. "We have a question mark behind this game." Parker can understand Rutgers' frustration. After all, the Lady Vols have ended the Scarlet Knights' season each of the past three years, including in the national championship game last season. But nobody in orange was apologizing for the win, either, especially considering Tennessee found a way to survive despite shooting just 29.6 percent from the field. "We're not going to make the best plays all the time," Parker said. "We're going to turn the ball over, and the referees aren't going to make the right call all the time. That's the game of basketball. We won and came out with the victory with a 'W' on our side. "That's what we're going to take with us." For Stringer, there was at least one small consolation. "Thank God it wasn't an NCAA championship, or quite frankly, I would probably lose my job," she said.
Chris Low is a college football and basketball writer for ESPN.com.