After his program came devastatingly close to its first Sweet 16 in 54 years, TCU men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon tried his best not to blame the loss on the referees.
Not once did he complain about the disputed no-call that robbed his team of the chance to potentially finish off top-seeded Arizona at the free-throw line.
"I mean, I think everybody’s seen it and is talking about it," Dixon said when reporters asked if he thought a foul should have been called. "We’re gonna handle it the right way. That's what we discussed. … We’ll defer to — we’ve got the best officials in the country working these games."
Perhaps Dixon saw no reason to tee off on the referees because what happened was so clear. A national TV audience plainly saw the referees swallow their whistles rather than make what would have been a season-altering call for both teams.
The play in question happened in the final seconds of regulation during ninth-seeded TCU's thrilling 85-80 overtime loss to Arizona in the South Regional. After Bennedict Mathurin's top-of-the-key 3-pointer saved Arizona's season and tied the score at 75, the Horned Frogs had 13 seconds left to try to score a go-ahead basket.
Dixon went back to the high pick-and-roll that TCU battered Arizona with throughout the night, but this time the Wildcats defended it differently. Dalen Terry and Christian Koloko blitzed the ball screen, their double team forcing TCU point guard Mike Miles to frantically dribble toward the sideline, then reverse course in order to free himself.
Let’s be real. This is a foul and TCU should have been shooting two free throws for the win. What a travesty and another awful mark for college basketball officiating. pic.twitter.com/4Y9p4jirbN
— Colt Barber (@Colt_Barber) March 21, 2022
"I had a good idea they were going to put the ball in Miles' hands," Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said. "We had an agile, mobile group out there. What the heck, 10 seconds to go in the game, let's throw a trap on him and see what happens."
In an effort to force Miles into a backcourt violation, Terry appeared to bump the TCU guard as he tap-danced along the mid-court stripe. Miles went sprawling to the ground and lost control of the ball, but no whistle came.
Asked about the play after the game, Miles at first tried to take Dixon's approach. In the end, he couldn't help himself and he admitted matter-of-factly, "It was a foul. They didn’t call it."
The no-call almost allowed Arizona to win the game in regulation. Terry picked up the loose ball, took one dribble and threw down a two-handed dunk, but the ball left his fingers a fraction of a second after the game clock hit triple zeroes and the red light behind the backboard turned on.
"That would have been a cool way to end it," Lloyd said. "But you know what, there was nothing wrong with that going to overtime."
In overtime, Arizona did just enough to survive. Mathurin scored a go-ahead layup with less than three minutes remaining. Then Koloko sealed the victory with a soaring put-back dunk to extend the Wildcats' lead to five with 11 seconds remaining.
While TCU will look back at the frustrating no-call and a couple of blown defensive assignments with regrets, the truth is that Dixon is right that the Horned Frogs have a lot of reasons to be proud. This a program that has come a long way since going 2-16 in the Big 12 the year before Dixon took over.
On Friday, TCU won an NCAA tournament game for the first time since 1987, clobbering Seton Hall by 27 points. On Sunday, the Horned Frogs rallied from nine down with seven minutes to play, beating Arizona to every 50-50 ball and every offensive rebound.
"I told them they made millions of fans tonight," Dixon said. "And the challenge now is to handle it the right way after this loss."