Extra Point

By Mike Fitzgerald

Wednesday, March 19, 1997

Zebras should be
accountable for disaster

LAS VEGAS -- It isn't politically correct to criticize referees these days.

So I better be tactful when commenting about the three stooges who called the University of Hawaii's season-ending loss at UNLV Monday.

OK, that's not a fair comparison. At least Moe, Larry and Curly worked well together and had a sense of timing.

Willis McJunkin, Mike Scyphers and Jerry Scott sure poked the UH players in the eye, though. Then they bonked them over the head.

It looked like someone ties their six shoelaces together. And they deserve a pie in the face.

The problem, though, is that it's not funny when it hurts an underdog's chances at winning a big game on the road.

Referees should be held accountable for the job they get paid to do, just like the rest of the working stiffs of the world.

If carpenters built a garage and left one of the walls off, do you think they would get paid?

Or they could use the universal referees' excuse: ''Hey, we're only human. It's easy to miss a wall here and there.''

The UH-UNLV game was a one-sided disgrace. Part of the problem is that the National Invitation Tournament is run like a garage sale. Everything is based on a shoestring budget, so they brought these guys in from the Big West instead of getting the best refs available.

And that conference, with a few exceptions, has very few large crowds. So when these guys got the chance to do the main stage show at the Thomas and Mack Center, it was awaaaay they go.

The numbers -- and I'm sure a tape of the game -- don't lie. Even the two Las Vegas Sun writers who sat next to me could only shake their heads as the disparity continued throughout the Rebels' 89-80 overtime victory.

Twenty-eight fouls were called against Hawaii and only 13 on UNLV, which played just as aggressively -- actually rougher -- than the undersized Rainbows.

The Rebels went to the free-throw line 36 times, compared to 11 trips for UH. That's a potential 25-point difference because of the officials. Outrageous.

Many of the calls were late whistles and based on incidental contact. It ruined the game, especially with four UH starters playing with four fouls each for a chunk of the second half -- and subsequently fouling out.

The refs and the timekeeper also teamed up, make that fouled up, for a five-point swing against UH near the end of the first half.

FIRST, Anthony Carter's long

3-pointer was nullified by a late and borderline traveling call with four seconds left.

Then the timekeeper started the game clock a full second late, allowing the Rebels to go the length of the court and put up three shots before one finally fell. The first-half clock might still be running as you read this if UNLV hadn't scored.

The only thing that kept the game close under these circumstances was UNLV missing 14 of the 36 free-throw attempts.

Otherwise, the refs would have separated two teams that obviously match up closely.

To Riley Wallace's credit, he didn't rip the refs after the game. It was the classy thing to do, because you don't want something like that to overshadow such an inspirational season by a team that could have easily given up.

The Rainbows played hard right up until the final buzzer and so did UNLV. But you can't play after you foul out.

I'm usually skeptical of excuses, such as travel, altitude, injury or fouls. They each have their validity, but the games are usually decided by which team scores the most points.

This game was an exception. And the three referees who worked that game should be reprimanded and not allowed to work any postseason play for at least next season.

And they owe the UH players and fans an apology for their brutal performance in Las Vegas.

Mike Fitzgerald's commentary appears every
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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