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No face saving gestures this time

Times Staff Writer

Washington basketball Coach Lorenzo Romar said what happened was unintentional.

A spokesman for the Pacific 10 Conference said there was “no malicious intent.”

And the supervisor of Pac-10 officials said the correct call -- no call -- was made Sunday when Huskies guard Tim Morris threw an inbounds pass into the face of UCLA forward Alfred Aboya.

But at least one prominent observer, watching on television, found it hard to fathom that Morris was not and will not be punished for his actions near the conclusion of Washington’s 71-61 upset win over the Bruins in Seattle.

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“I would have jerked [Morris] out of the game immediately,” legendary former UCLA coach John Wooden said Monday. “And after the game he’d have heard about it.

“You do have to keep in mind that these are kids and they are going to get over-excited at times and are still not completely mature. But that is no excuse for what happened.”

What happened was that the 6-foot-4 Morris, a fifth-year senior, was trying to pass the ball inbounds in front of the UCLA bench as the 6-8 Aboya applied defensive pressure. With five seconds to put the ball in play, Morris was about out of time when, replays show, he appeared to take quick aim at Aboya before firing the ball into his face.

Aboya, who suffered a broken bone under his eye earlier this season, staggered away holding his nose as the ball ricocheted out of bounds, giving the Huskies another five seconds to work the ball in.

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UCLA Coach Ben Howland protested, but said he was told by game officials that there wasn’t a call they could make.

On Monday, that judgment was refuted by Hank Nichols, the NCAA’s national coordinator of men’s basketball officials, and Bill McCabe, supervisor of basketball officials for the Pac-10, who both said officials had the option of calling a technical foul on Morris for committing an unsporting act.

“If you thought the kid did it on purpose, it would be considered an unsporting act,” Nichols said. “It’s a hard judgment to make. I’ve seen that play happen but not very often.

“It usually happens when a guy jumps, but it didn’t look like the UCLA guy jumped. But, yes, a technical could have been assessed against Washington.”

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McCabe agreed that a technical foul could have been called, but he otherwise disagreed with Nichols’ assessment of what happened. He blamed the outcome on Aboya.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that Aboya jumped in front of the ball,” McCabe said Monday afternoon. “There’s no doubt in my mind that Aboya caused the contact.”

Later Monday, McCabe reconsidered his view of the replay. “I don’t think you can see an intent by Morris to aim at the head,” he said. “It’s possible that if Aboya hadn’t moved to his right, the ball might have missed him.”

Howland said UCLA would not pursue punitive action against Morris or Washington. Asked what he might do to his own player were the roles reversed, he said, “I wouldn’t comment on that.”

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Spokesman Dave Hirsch said the Pac-10 would not punish Morris because, “We felt the play was part of the game.

“Morris had no other option,” Hirsch added. “We don’t think he lined up to throw it.”

Romar said he was certain his player did not intentionally hit Aboya in the face, adding that Morris apologized to Aboya. Television replays appear to show Morris saying something to Aboya afterward, just as a game official handed him the ball for his second attempt at putting it in play.

“It was a chaotic situation,” Romar said. “Tim told me after the game he just wanted to make sure the ball went off the UCLA player so we kept possession. I know Tim. He’s not that kind of player.”

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Aboya was diplomatic after the game. “I guess [Morris] didn’t have room because it was by our bench,” he said. “I want to say it was a cheap shot, but you’ve got to do whatever you can to inbounds the ball.”

An NCAA official who watched the replay said he thought Morris’ throw was “a cheap shot” and credited UCLA’s coaches and players for not escalating the situation.

Washington forward Artem Wallace said Sunday, “We knew if we came out on them and we were physical as well, the refs were either going to call everything or they were going to let us play. We knew from the start we had to jump in and be physical and try to get it done.”

Huskies guard Justin Dentmon added, “Coach Romar told us to go right at them. They’re a physical team, we’re a physical team so the referees were going to let us play a bit.”

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The loss dropped UCLA into a tie with Stanford for first place in the Pac-10. The Bruins (21-3, 9-2) also dropped from fifth to sixth in the Associated Press media poll and from fourth to sixth in the ESPN/USA Today coaches’ poll. . . . UCLA forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, who missed last weekend’s games because of a sprained ankle, is out of a walking cast and wearing an air cast. He is listed as probable for Sunday’s game against USC at the Galen Center. The Trojans defeated the Bruins, 72-63, at Pauley Pavilion last month.

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diane.pucin@latimes.com

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