Ask the same question three different ways. Ben Howland won’t take the bait.

The UCLA coach will not condemn officiating in the Pacific 10 Conference.

“You can go to look at any game throughout the country and there’s always going to be a little bit of controversy in a call that was or wasn’t made,” he says.


But after a pair of hotly debated charging calls against UCLA and USC at Arizona State last weekend -- see USC Coach Tim Floyd’s on-court tirade on YouTube -- Pac-10 officials have become a point of contention among college basketball fans in Southern California.

The storm isn’t likely to dissipate, not with Washington in town for two games starting with a conference showdown against UCLA at Pauley Pavilion tonight. Just last month, the Huskies enjoyed a combined 83-32 advantage in free throws over the Bruins and Trojans in Seattle.

As UCLA guard Jrue Holiday said: “If I was a fan, I’d be mad at the refs too.”

No coach is likely to speak out on the issue -- at least not publicly -- for fear of reprimand. The Pac-10’s coordinator of men’s basketball officiating, Bill McCabe, refused to be interviewed for this story, offering only brief comment through a spokesman.

It is McCabe’s job to oversee a collection of officials who are independent contractors, working for various conferences over the course of a season.

Given what has occurred at Pac-10 games this winter, it is no surprise that officiating has come under fire. In that recent USC-Washington game, the teams were left confused after opposing players ran into each other.

Charge or block? No, a charge and a block.

Evaluating the work of officials can be tricky in ways that go beyond specific instances. Start with a broad perspective.

The old stereotype of home-court advantage has been “discussed for 50 years in basketball,” Floyd said, and this season it has proved true more often than not.

In terms of total free throws, all but two Pac-10 teams have been at a disadvantage on the road. All but three have benefited from playing at home.

The combined discrepancies over a dozen or so games for each team have ranged from eight to more than 100 free throws.

“It’s not what they call, it’s the no-calls that typically hurt teams on the road,” Floyd said, speaking in general terms. “No-calls become calls at home.”

Conference spokesman Dave Hirsch said: “Maybe teams play better at home.”

There have been several games in which one team -- usually the home team -- has shot surprisingly more free throws than its opponent.

In addition to big advantages against USC and UCLA, Washington shot from the line 40 or more times against California and Oregon. The Huskies won three out of four of those games.

In another instance, they were outshot, 51-20, in a loss at Arizona.

That kind of imbalance can be a deciding factor. “If you shoot more free throws than the other team makes, you are going to win that game,” Floyd said.

But home-court advantage is only one influence on foul shot totals. The numbers get skewed if a team falls behind late and intentionally fouls to manage the clock. Players in a man-to-man defense can be more at risk of committing fouls than those playing zone.

“One team’s playing an aggressive style and another team is not playing an aggressive style,” Oregon State Coach Craig Robinson said.

The Pac-10 teams that have allowed the fewest free throws in conference games -- Arizona at 177 and Arizona State at 206 -- rely heavily on zone defenses.

Offense makes a difference, too. Washington is a good example.

The Huskies rank third in the nation with 715 free throws this season, an average of 28.6 a game. In conference games, they have shot 398, almost 130 more than the next closest team, Arizona.

Rival coaches offer several explanations. Guards Isaiah Thomas and Justin Dentmon are quick and tenacious about penetrating. The Huskies also have an experienced big man, Jon Brockman, who reaches the line more than six times a game.

“We like to always be on the attack mode, offensively and defensively,” Washington Coach Lorenzo Romar said.

Ultimately, officiating comes down to individual calls, those moments that generate the most discussion, especially when they occur near the end of games.

USC guard Daniel Hackett openly criticized officials after he was called for charging in the final minute of the Trojans’ loss at Arizona State on Sunday. The foul sent Floyd storming onto the court, rushing from one official to the next, until he was ejected.

A few nights earlier, on the same court, an official called UCLA’s Darren Collison for a charge with 39 seconds remaining. Collison had scored a layup to tie the game, but the basket was negated and the Bruins lost.

That night, ESPN sportscasters showed replays, criticizing the call.

McCabe stated that, in his opinion, Arizona State forward Jeff Pendergraph had committed a blocking foul. But it was a judgment call, so he stopped short of saying the call should have gone the other way.

Coaches who want to complain about officiating can do little more than yell from the bench and fill out a report after the game. Howland said he has never filed such paperwork because “it doesn’t change the outcome.”

He and his colleagues can also rank officials from favorite to least favorite. In making game assignments, Hirsch said, the conference tries to give coaches the officials they like as often as possible.

McCabe and his observers provide further input, evaluating performances over the course of the season. An official who rates poorly might have his assignments reduced the next season, Hirsch said.

Floyd and Howland said they believe that Pac-10 officials try hard and care about getting calls right.

In addition to subjective calls -- two referees using the same guidelines might reach different conclusions -- there is an unavoidable element of human error that can lead to a handful of missed calls every game.

With UCLA facing Washington tonight, Howland and his players have addressed the foul situation. They have talked about keeping their cool.

“The fans can argue the calls,” UCLA swingman Josh Shipp said. “We just play the game.”




Tonight vs. Washington, 8 p.m., FSW

Saturday vs. Washington State, Noon, PRIME



Tonight vs. Washington State, 7:30 p.m., PRIME

Saturday vs. Washington, 4 p.m., PRIME