After Mississippi State took a 67-60 lead on Kentucky with three minutes left Tuesday night, the referees called 10 fouls against State and none against UK. And that doesn't count a non-call on what some thought was a goaltend by John Wall.
Good officiating? Incompetence? Subconscious bias toward Kentucky, the Southeastern Conference's flagship program?
"To me, that brings out a real red flag," former Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson said when asked about the 10-0 disparity in foul calls. "I didn't see the game, but you can't tell me (all is OK when) there's 10 fouls on one side and they're leading. C'mon. C'mon."
Kentucky Coach John Calipari saw it differently. After asking a reporter to confirm that the foul calls were 10 against State and none against his team, Calipari said, "Well, they fouled.
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"If you watched the tape, they fouled. And we're one of the leading teams in the country in not fouling."
True enough. Going into the game, UK ranked No. 36 nationally in committing the fewest fouls per game. But Mississippi State ranked, ahem, No. 1. Because of shot-blocker Jarvis Varnado, the Bulldogs committed fewer fouls than any other team.
Against UK, State got called for 28 fouls.
Richardson said that Kentucky's No. 2 national ranking and 24-1 record going into the game could have played a role.
"When you're winning, you get help," he said. "You probably get more calls being one of the better teams than if you're one of the worst teams."
When asked why, Richardson said, "I don't know. It's amazing."
Officiating is a sensitive subject. The SEC's supervisor of officials, Gerald Boudreaux, declined to comment when told that several former league coaches said that, to be put kindly, it's good to be Kentucky.
"Basketball officiating requires a high level of concentration," he wrote in an e-mail. "and ... at times it is very difficult."
The SEC took a public relations hit last football season when calls that favored Florida in a tight game against Arkansas raised suspicions the league wanted to make sure the Gators played Alabama in its championship game.
On ESPN's Pardon the Interruption show Wednesday, co-host Michael Wilbon referred to that football controversy in condemning the plastic bottles thrown onto the court by Mississippi State fans near the end of the basketball game.
Unjustified, he said, "No matter how bad the officials were — and they were awful, they were an embarrassment. This was like the football season when the SEC favorite just has anything they want. ... They just handed the game to Kentucky. Ridiculous."
SEC Associate Commissioner Charles Bloom noted the sensitive nature of officiating and said the referees seek accuracy and fairness above all.
Yet several former SEC coaches saw objectivity as an elusive standard.
After noting that the referees did not cost Mississippi State the game, former Alabama coach Wimp Sanderson said, "There were two huge calls that were incorrect." He was referring to the non-call on the possible goaltend and a Patrick Patterson drive that resulted in blocking rather than charging.
"There's not any doubt in my mind," he said.
Sanderson noted the importance of "guts" in officiating along with positioning, judgment and fitness.
When asked if it was good to be Kentucky, Sanderson said, "I always felt that way. I'd be lying if I told you otherwise."
Conversely, former Tennessee coach Don DeVoe said he saw no calls that were "blatantly wrong" in the UK-State game. DeVoe did recall his star at Tennessee, Tony White, fouling out on a charging call when trying to split a trap in front of the UK bench in Rupp Arena. "Absolutely horrible," said DeVoe, who noted how crowds can easily intimidate referees.
Former Georgia coach Hugh Durham famously referred to the "blue mist" that influenced sports writers and, yes, referees.
"Have you ever tried to cover eight guys with five?" he said. "Somebody's always open."
The former coaches acknowledged that whatever advantage they perceived Kentucky enjoyed was not bulletproof.
Sanderson recalled Paul Galvan calling walking on UK moments before Eddie Phillips won the 1982 SEC Tournament for Alabama with a last-second tip-in. "I thought that was pretty gutsy," Sanderson said.
DeVoe noted a game against Kentucky in Knoxville in which all three referees lived in Tennessee. "I felt badly for Joe B. Hall," he said. "We never got a bad call all night. That's just not right."
Calipari fell back on the axiom that all calls, good and bad, balance out over the course of a season. He noted two non-calls on what he viewed as goaltends by South Carolina last month.
DeVoe agreed. "That's what makes basketball the sport it is," he said. "There's all this damn controversy and drama from beginning to end."
With Kentucky playing at Tennessee on Saturday, UK fans will be bracing themselves for repeated renditions of UT's unofficial fight song, Rocky Top.
Ironically, the song was originally recorded by Kentuckians, The Osborne Brothers.
Bobby Osborne, who was born in Hyden (the same hometown as former UK quarterback Tim Couch), said he and his brother, Sonny, needed a song to finish a recording session. They needed a "B" side to a ballad called My Favorite Memory.
Famed songwriters Boudleaux and Felice Bryant were working on Rocky Top. One problem: It belonged to a rival publishing company.
After resolving that issue, The Osborne Brothers released My Favorite Memory/Rocky Top on Christmas Day, 1967.
The Osborne Brothers had a reason for My Favorite Memory being the "A" side. "DJs would play (ballads) longer," Bobby said.
Then one night, Nashville disc jockey Ralph Emery flipped the record and played Rocky Top for his audience. The rest is recording history.
Rocky Top, which is a city-dweller's lamentation over the loss of a simpler and freer existence in the hills of Tennessee, endures. Bobby called it "just a foot-stomping song."
The Osbornes' father taught school in Hyden before moving to Dayton, Ohio, when Bobby was 8 years old. That was long enough for the Osbornes to become Kentucky fans.
"Oh, goodness, yes," Bobby said. "My dad taught us no team was any good except Kentucky."
Even though the Osborne Brothers later recorded a song called Kentucky, they will forever be linked to Rocky Top.
Bobby, now 78 and teaching mandolin and guitar at Hazard Technical Community College, still sings the song.
At halftime of the Tennessee-Memphis football game last season, Bobby sang Rocky Top.
A few months ago, Bobby made an appearance at the Kentucky Legislature. After singing Kentucky on the floor of the House, Bobby said people shouted for Rocky Top.
Although many UK fans might be sick of hearing Rocky Top, Bobby isn't one of them. He and his brother Sonny get a performance royalty when UT strikes up the song.
"Every time they start it up," Bobby said.
Memo of understanding
A day after Kentucky's victory over Mississippi State on Tuesday night generated comment about the officiating, Southeastern Conference Commissioner Mike Slive reminded league coaches (men's and women's teams), school presidents and athletic directors to not publicly criticize referees.
In a memorandum dated Feb. 17, Slive told coaches and others that "there are proper channels available for head coaches to use when communicating officiating concerns to the conference office."
Former Tennessee coach Don DeVoe echoed the belief of many coaches when he noted the futility of officially lodging a concern with the league office. "Not once did I do that," he said. "Because, you know what, it doesn't do a damn bit of good."
In his memo, Slive reminded coaches of his powers of suspension and fine for violations of Bylaw 10.5.4. He also said that if he deemed critical comments made by assistant coaches and other support personnel warranted punishment, it would be enforced against the head coach.
After Mississippi State took a 67-60 lead with three minutes left in regulation, the referees called 10 fouls on Mississippi State and none on Kentucky.
In his post-game news conference, State Coach Rick Stansbury used humor to express his displeasure with the officiating. In response to a reporter's question, he said his star big man, Jarvis Varnado, was the victim of more than one "nicky-pick" call.
When a reporter prefaced a follow-up question by saying he didn't want to belabor the point, Stansbury said, "Oh, belabor them (the referees). I know you want me to say something. Go ahead and belabor them."
Then the State coach asked, "Are you going to pay my fine? Will you pay half of it? We'll belabor the heck out of them."
On Wednesday evening, Associate SEC Commissioner Charles Bloom said that the league did not plan to reprimand or fine Stansbury nor the referees who worked the Kentucky-Mississippi State game.
Stansbury did not cross the line and question the integrity of the referees. No doubt the Mississippi State coach helped himself by using humor to make his point.
Don't ask/don't tell
However the SEC judges the performance of its referees in any particular game, the league prefers not to share its views with the public.
When asked about the referees who worked the UK-Mississippi State game (Mike Stuart, Mike Kitts and Michael Stephens), SEC Coordinator of Officials Gerald Boudreaux wrote in an e-mail, "We review and evaluate the performance of our officials in every conference game. The officiating reviews that are conducted are for internal purposes and not released for public discussion."
Stuart, Kitts and Stephens were the likely target of a few fans who vented their frustration by throwing plastic bottles on the court.
Loyola Marymount Coach Max Good would like to play Kentucky next season. Good, who formerly coached at Eastern Kentucky, could offer UK a game in Los Angeles to break up the trip to the Maui Invitational next November or on the return home. Or, no doubt, he'd jump at the chance to bring his team to Rupp Arena.
But Good didn't help his case any when he guided Loyola Marymount to a 74-66 victory over No. 13 Gonzaga on Thursday.
It was the program's first victory over a ranked opponent since March 23, 1990, when the Lions beat No. 23 Alabama 62-60 in the NCAA West Regional. It snapped a 35-game skid against ranked teams for Loyola Marymount.
"We are finally getting healthy and we were able to play aggressive man the whole night and come up with a statement win," Good said.
Earlier this season, the Lions won at Notre Dame and Southern Cal.
"I'll be honest," Good said. "Us beating Gonzaga and beating Notre Dame at Notre Dame, our chances of getting guarantee games are going down."
Loyola Marymount played Notre Dame at home last season and has a home game against Florida State scheduled for next season.
While ever hopeful that he might get Kentucky on the schedule sometime, Good is in the midst of rebuilding a program that once was the talk of college basketball. But the days of Bo Kimble and the late Hank Gathers leading Loyola Marymount to an NCAA Tournament bid were long gone by last season, when Good took over a program in shambles. The Lions won only three games.
Although injuries hampered this year's team, Good had improved the record to 14-13 going into a game against Portland on Saturday night.
The life of a coach means concentrating on the next challenge rather than basking in the most-recent victory. So Good declined an invitation to take a bow for the victory over Gonzaga.
"A win is slightly less miserable than a loss," he said on Friday. "That game was not over two seconds, literally, and I'm worried about Portland."
To former UK guard Rajon Rondo. The glare of adulation surrounding the play of John Wall obscures how well Rondo performed for Kentucky. He turns 24 on Monday.