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Hill: Official’s foul call steals moment from UConn — and Iowa

Embarrassing. Awful. Fixed.

Those words flooded social media to describe the end of Friday night’s historic national semifinal game between Iowa and Connecticut.

An official decided that the most viewers to ever watch a women’s basketball broadcast had tuned in to watch the official.

An unfathomable decision to blow the whistle and call a moving screen on Connecticut when it had the ball with a chance to win in the final seconds of a one-point game will be the most enduring takeaway from what should have been a monumental moment for women’s sports.

The effect on the Huskies is obvious. They never had a chance to try a shot that could have sent them to another title game.

It’s also unfair to Iowa, though. Sure, the Hawkeyes will have an easier time getting over it — and they will need to because they have a championship game to prepare for Sunday.

But for the next decades, when the players and coaches try to reminisce about what should be one of the greatest moments of their lives, someone will inevitably try to throw cold water on it with a reference to the call.

That has already started, of course.

Marshall’s moment stolen

It may be the worst for Gabbie Marshall, the senior who played a tremendous game on both ends of the floor and helped keep Iowa in striking distance while star guard Caitlin Clark struggled for much of the night.

Marshall drew the call by trying to get through Aaliyah Edwards’ screen and then reacting to the contact. She should have been inundated with congratulatory messages and posts praising her for her efforts.

Instead, she had to delete the apps from her phone.

The call overshadowed “the fact that I played my butt off the whole game trying to guard (UConn star Paige Bueckers),” Marshall said Saturday. “I tried to get over screens the whole game, and I feel like that one play consumed everything. I feel like it’s all anyone is talking about. They’re not talking about the fact that it was a great game between two great teams. I’ve gotten a lot of hateful comments. I’m not the one who made the call, so I’m not sure why they’re mad at me personally.”

It’s ridiculous that she has had to go through that on what should be a triumphant day. (Side note: Let’s agree to stop messaging athletes with nasty or hurtful comments in general.)

But this is why the decision to make the call was so unfair to everyone involved. Marshall and her teammates were perfectly capable of getting a legitimate defensive stop and getting the win they earned. Instead, it will forever be in question.

Of course, that leads to the raging debate about whether it was the right call.

The screen absolutely appeared to be illegal. Do you call it in that situation? That’s a better question.

Can’t call them all?

The theory of “letting the players decide the game” is incredibly stupid. An official not making a call in the final seconds is impacting the game just as much as an official deciding to make a pivotal call. So anything that is a violation in the first minute should also be called in the final seconds.

There is the problem. Go back and watch the game. It’s tough to go more than two or three possessions without seeing an illegal screen.

Nobody wants to watch a game in which 47 illegal screens are called. That would be dumb. But there were probably at least that many committed.

One social media user actually put together a highlight reel of nothing but blatantly illegal screens set by Iowa earlier in the game. It’s completely fine to not call them, but there has to be consistency. One of the worst sins officials can make is to make a call in that moment when they have let similar infractions go unchecked throughout the game.

It’s just not fair to the players. And Marshall even conceded that while making a different point.

“Personally I thought it was an illegal screen, and it’s not like it was the first one of the game,” she said.

Exactly. And that is the problem.

It’s not helping anyone involved that the official’s call will also make the NCAA and ABC millions of dollars in additional revenue because Iowa advanced to the final. Despite all the outrage and vitriol, Clark is ratings gold.

That, of course, only adds to the question of why the whistle was blown.

Hopefully, Iowa and South Carolina are allowed to determine a champion with a less controversial outcome.

It’s what the sport deserves.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on X.

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