No Righting This Wrong for UCLA Women


Even an apology from the NCAA didn't improve the situation the UCLA women had to come to grips with Monday.

Yes, the NCAA acknowledged, the clock operator had probably made a timing error that enabled Alabama to score a basket at the buzzer in a 75-74 victory over the Bruins in a second-round game Sunday in the Midwest Regional at Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Yes, the officials failed to call a traveling violation on the Alabama player who moved from the spot before heaving a pass with 0.8 of a second to play that was tipped by two players before landing in the hands of shooter LaToya Caudle.

Yes, the officials could have reviewed videotape to determine if a correctable error had been made. The NCAA added that those officials--Jack Riordan, Robert Strong, Lolly Saenz and Sue Blaugh--will not be used again in this year's tournament.

But no, the outcome will not be reversed. Alabama, not the Bruins, will advance to the round of 16 in Lubbock, Texas.

"The ending of this game was an unfortunate and regrettable situation," NCAA administrator Jean Lenti Ponsetto said in a statement. "It is unfortunate when the outcome of a game is influenced by factors other than the participants on the floor. . . .

"We cannot replay the last 0.8 seconds of the game. The results of the game will stand. . . .

"Human beings are involved, and human beings make mistakes. When that happens, the results can be calamitous to the losing team. All of us who have spent our lives in sports know that and can empathize with the UCLA coaches and players."

The Bruins can only grit their teeth. UCLA filed an appeal with the NCAA, basically protesting that no protest procedure exists to overturn the outcome of a game.

"I'm struggling with what the NCAA had to say," UCLA Coach Kathy Olivier said. "The NCAA is supposed to promote and ensure fair play. Then this takes place and we are supposed to be OK with their statement that it was bad judgment.

"The hardest thing for me is that the officials never reviewed the video. We were under the impression they were reviewing it, and we stayed on the court for 90 minutes. We were misled as to what was occurring."

Olivier was also distressed that the controversy was detracting from what she described as quality play in the tournament.

Going a step further, former UCLA All-American Natalie Williams, the American Basketball League's most valuable player, notified the NCAA that if the result weren't reversed, she would forfeit seven of her NCAA-sanctioned awards, among them her 1994 NCAA volleyball player-of-the-year award.

Williams, who plays for the Portland Power, was outraged.

"I can't believe they'd let this stand when it's so clearly not only an officials' error but also a timekeeping error," she said.

In her statement, Williams said, "If student athletes make mistakes, they're expected to take responsibility for them. . . . Can the NCAA expect athletes to follow these guidelines when, in fact, the NCAA is not accepting responsibility or being held accountable for its own actions?"

No one can say the clock operator lacks experience. Doc Blanchard has been on the job at Alabama for close to 50 years, and he defended his actions.

"They think the clock should start when they throw it in, but it's only supposed to start when the ball is tipped," Blanchard said.

UCLA knew precisely when the clock should have started. Bruin assistant Pam Walker asked Riordan before the final play what Alabama would have time to do. Walker said Riordan told her, " 'They have time to catch and shoot.' "

Television replays indicated the clock did not start until Caudle came down with the ball, which by that time had been tipped into the air by UCLA's Erica Gomez and Alabama's Dominique Canty.

Alabama Coach Rick Moody went fishing Monday, but not before offering a parting shot: "I will not say our kids did not deserve to win that game. I will take that to my grave with me."

Later Monday, Crimson Tide officials said the NCAA had instructed them not to comment. But it may well be that Alabama's streak of hosting women's tournament games will end at seven years.

Games leading to the Final Four are hosted by teams competing in the tournament to boost attendance. Olivier and Moody, among others, had complained about the format.

Olivier believes this episode might spur the NCAA to consider using neutral sites.

"With the ABL and WNBA doing so well, if the NCAA markets it right, we could get people at the games," she said. "I think the time has come to make the change."


Times staff writer Earl Gustkey contributed to this story.

* RANDY HARVEY: Suddenly, people are starting to care enough about women's basketball to be upset. C2

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