Growing pains, perhaps, but there was no dismissing the hurt in the eyes of sophomore-laden UCLA after a controversial Alabama basket at the buzzer eliminated the Bruins from the NCAA tournament, 75-74, Sunday night.
UCLA led by one point on a free throw by Maylana Martin with 1.8 seconds to play. She purposely missed her second shot--she said--and Alabama rebounded and called time out with 0.8 seconds to play.
Inbounding the ball from under the UCLA basket, Alabama guard Brittney Ezell ran along the baseline--a violation in itself, officials admitted afterward--and heaved the ball downcourt, where it was tipped into the air by Bruin Erica Gomez and Alabama's Dominique Canty at the top of the key.
LaToya Caudle grabbed the ball, turned at the free throw line and made a bank shot, sinking the Bruins in a second-round game before 3,250 at Coleman Coliseum.
Could the tip and the shot all happen in 0.8 seconds? UCLA Coach Kathy Olivier dashed to the timer and asked.
According to NCAA rules, the officials could have reviewed a television replay. But they bolted as soon as the buzzer sounded, which left NCAA tournament representatives Tina Cheatham and Rose Shea to sort out the mess.
About 90 minutes later, with the UCLA players still waiting on the floor, Cheatham said that after consulting with the game officials and Marcy Weston, NCAA supervisor of officials, the Alabama victory would stand.
"It's so sad that the focus after a great game is not on how the players from both teams gave their guts, but is on an old clock and the guy running it," Olivier said. "What should have been a great game for women's basketball is just a controversy."
Timekeeper Doc Blanchard, whom Larry White, an Alabama associate athletic director, said has been at the job for about 50 years, was unavailable for comment.
"We referred to the timer and he said he did start the clock on the touch," Cheatham said. "That makes it not a 'reviewable' situation."
The conclusion obscured an inspired effort by UCLA (20-9), which shot 55.8% and outrebounded Alabama (24-9), 40-27.
UCLA built its biggest lead, 52-38, with 15:40 to play, but a 10-point run brought the Crimson Tide back. Neither team led by more than five points thereafter.
Martin, one of seven Bruin sophomores and the team's leading scorer, played only 21 minutes because of foul trouble, but she took over the offense upon reentering the game for good with 5:45 to play. A steal and layup by Leah Goss put Alabama ahead, 71-67, with three minutes left, and Martin responded with a turnaround shot in the key.
Marie Philman tied the score with a layup with one minute to play, and after two Alabama free throws, Martin scored in the lane to tie the score, 73-73.
Aisha Veasley rebounded a Canty miss with 12 seconds left and Martin was fouled by Tausha Mills, setting up the final sequence.
"Eventually I'll be able to look at this as a learning experience," said Gomez, a sophomore. "But we have four seniors who don't deserve to have their careers end this way."
Canty led all scorers with 28 points.
"The good Lord just blessed us," said Alabama Coach Rick Moody, whose team has advanced to the round of 16 five years in a row and has won 19 consecutive home games.
Olivier was something less than blessed, shaking her head as she walked to the team bus nearly two hours after the game ended.
"This underscores the problem of not playing these games at neutral sites," she said. "We played a great game and it makes me sad that they couldn't give us a definite interpretation. There are a lot of questions to answer."