Refereeing is part science, part art and, almost always, highly nuanced. Frequently, one athlete’s block is another’s charge. One team’s hacking is another’s “light contact.”
The hope, always, is that the referees do not take center stage in a championship game. But in Sunday’s N.C.A.A. women’s final, the whistles incessantly blew and both Iowa and Louisiana State had players in foul trouble throughout the game, which was won by the Tigers. Iowa star Caitlyn Clark’s fourth foul came on a technical foul for throwing the ball away, which seemed awfully questionable for such a big moment, despite the explanation from a referee after the game that Iowa’s bench had been warned previously for delaying the game by not quickly getting the ball back to officials.
As Connecticut and San Diego State University made their final adjustments before Monday night’s men’s championship, a part of each team’s final scouting report will cover, at least for a few minutes, the tendencies of the referees.
This is routine for teams, several coaches said during earlier rounds of this tournament. Both UConn and S.D.S.U. are rugged, physical teams.
“Officiating is really good at this level,” Aztecs Coach Brian Dutcher said before his team upset top-seeded Alabama. “Only the best guys are calling the games. But with that being said, you have to adjust to officiating. We’ll see how it’s being called and make whatever other adjustments are necessary.”
Dan Hurley, the UConn coach, has had a checkered history with referees. He was publicly reprimanded by the Big East Conference in February 2022, for his comments following a loss at Xavier. This year, he used a profanity while calling referee Jeffrey Anderson a “clown” — then Anderson showed up as part of the crew that officiated UConn’s semifinal win over Miami on Saturday.
A week earlier, during UConn’s blowout over Gonzaga that sent the Huskies to the Final Four, there was a funny moment in Hurley’s CBS sideline interview following an in-game discussion with the referee Keith Kimble. A few minutes after that, Hurley said during the interview, “He’s right there listening so I can’t say much right now. He’s reffed a great game.”
Typically, schools do not learn who is refereeing until the day of the game, and that is the case for Monday night’s championship. The N.C.A.A. draws from a pool that worked Saturday’s semifinals and announces the officials an hour before tipoff.
Hurley said in Las Vegas last weekend that he prefers not to know who the officials are until gametime. He said he lets his assistant coaches handle the tendency conversations pregame with the players.
“Obviously, you’ve got to adjust to how the game is being called,” Hurley said.
The last time San Diego State met UConn in the tournament was in 2011 in the round of 16. Star guard Kemba Walker scored 36 points in a 74-67 Huskies victory that still leaves a bitter taste in the mouth of that Kawhi Leonard-led Aztecs team.
“I remember Kawhi Leonard got the only technical foul of his career. That was not fun,” Dutcher, the top assistant to then-coach Steve Fisher that night, said Sunday in Houston. “I remember Jamaal Franklin bumped into Kemba as he walked off the floor and Kemba fell down and Jamaal Franklin got a technical foul.
“Hopefully, we don’t get any technical fouls tomorrow. I’d like to keep our guys on the floor and not give them anything for free.”