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Raynor: Brilliant women’s NCAA Tournament doesn’t deserve any more amateur errors


PORTLAND, Ore. — In the final minutes leading up to Sunday afternoon’s Elite Eight tipoff, Texas coach Vic Schaefer’s usual pregame routine came to a dramatic halt.

Instead, he and NC State coach Wes Moore were examining the Moda Center court before competing for a trip to the Final Four.

“I really would have loved to have done what I normally do my last 12 minutes before a game instead of walking around out there, trying to see if the floor’s screwed up,” Schaefer said.

With a set of officials nearby, he and Moore took turns pacing out steps from the free-throw line to the top of the arc, and others brought out a tape measure. In a bizarre chain of events that the NCAA still has not fully explained, both coaches got word that there was a discrepancy between the two 3-point lines on the court. The one by the Texas bench, Moore would later say, was correct. The one by the NC State bench was shorter, Schaefer said.

Officials asked the two coaches how they wanted to proceed. If both coaches agreed to play on, the game would tip off as scheduled. There was an option, Schaefer said, to bring somebody in to correctly re-mark the lines, but it would have taken about an hour. Coaches wondered if such a delay would cost the players their coveted television slot on ABC, in addition to the potential impacts it might have created on their team’s rhythm and routine.

Schaefer was initially hesitant to play. But Moore did not want to delay the game.

“Wes wanted to play, and we played,” Schaefer said. “I wasn’t gonna be the guy that goes, ‘No, I don’t want to do it.’”

So the game tipped off as planned, with NC State winning 76-66 for the team’s first Final Four berth since 1998.

“I hate to say this,” Schaefer said of the issue afterward, “but I have a lot of colleagues who would say, ‘Only in women’s basketball.’ It’s a shame, really, that it even happened.”

Bingo.

What happened Sunday in Portland was not only a shame but an unacceptable stain on the NCAA, which just can’t seem to get the women’s tournament right after so much goodwill has been put in after the embarrassing exposure of inequalities versus the men’s tournament in 2021.

Not all were the fault of the NCAA, but this is at least the fourth controversy this season’s tournament has had since the first round began March 22. The Utah women’s basketball team switched hotels out of safety concerns after reporting racial slurs were shouted at the team in Idaho. The team hotel was 30 miles east of Spokane, Wash., where the Utes’ games were set to be played, a distance that was within the rules but in a city that has issues with extremist groups, its mayor said. The NCAA arranged to move the team after the incident.

“For our players and staff to not feel safe in an NCAA Tournament environment, it’s messed up, and so we moved hotels,” coach Lynne Roberts said.

In NC State’s first-round game against Chattanooga, an official was removed at halftime because it was only discovered after tipoff that she had a conflict of interest. A quick Google search shows that Tommi Paris has a master’s degree from … Chattanooga. Earlier this weekend, Notre Dame star Hannah Hidalgo missed four critical minutes of play in a loss to Oregon State after being instructed by an official to remove a nose ring she has worn all season.

And now this.

It’s time for the embarrassing moments to stop overshadowing what has become an incredible time in women’s basketball, both from a competitive standpoint and the star power in the game. UConn coach Geno Auriemma was right when he said Sunday that this year’s Elite Eight games — featuring JuJu Watkins versus Paige Bueckers, Angel Reese versus Caitlin Clark and more — may end up being the most fun the sport has had in ages.

These players are too dominant, these coaches too passionate for amateur hour to take over what is usually the most entertaining postseason in sports.

“It is what it is,” Schaefer said of the 3-point issue. “It’s a shame. That’s all I can say.”

In two statements released Sunday, the NCAA blamed its vendor — Connor Sports — for the error instead of taking any responsibility itself. The organization provided so few details in two statements — and did not answer multiple follow-up questions from The Athletic — that Schaefer was left having to explain the situation himself right after his team lost an emotional game to the Wolfpack.

“I mean, I’m not the culprit here. You guys are asking me about something that I had no control over,” he said, laughing. “So Vic Schaefer ain’t the problem.”

The NCAA said in a statement it regretted that the error was not discovered sooner and that the court would be corrected for Monday’s UConn-USC matchup.

“At the conclusion of (Sunday’s) game and practice in Portland, the NCAA will be measuring all court lines and markings on the court at the Moda Center,” the statement read in part.

“While the NCAA’s vendor has apologized for the error, we will investigate how this happened in the first place. The NCAA is working now to ensure the accuracy of all court markings for future games.

“We are not aware of any other issues at any of the prior sites for men’s or women’s tournament games.”

Moore said the incorrect lines had been painted onto the court for the duration of the regional in Portland, which started Friday with eight teams. Both coaches pointed out that they weren’t sure the difference mattered in the end — especially for the Wolfpack, who shot a sizzling 50 percent from 3-point range behind star guard Aziaha James, who scored 27 points and went 7 of 9 from deep.

“If you’ll look, I think we shot the ball better on the other end both games because that’s the normal line,” Moore said. “But I’m not going to blame it on that. I mean, these kids … they shoot so far behind (the 3-point line) sometimes nowadays, who knows where the line is?” (James hit a logo 3-pointer earlier in the weekend against Stanford.)

“I don’t know that it was an advantage or disadvantage either way. We both played a half on each end.”

As we shift our attention to Monday’s matchups — which should be thrilling, by the way — it’s time the tournament gets back to the magical moments we all know and love it for.

But women’s basketball still deserves more, starting with the basics: accurate court dimensions.

(Photo of Moda Center court: Ashley Young / The Athletic)





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