Mike DiMauro: On the infamous moving screen: Blame Edwards as much as the official

Apr. 6—It is both amusing and amazing that otherwise well-meaning, rational humans can watch the same video evidence of a play and draw such contrasting conclusions. Exhibit A came late Friday night when women's basketball official Gina Cross whistled UConn's Aaliyah Edwards for a moving screen in the closing seconds of what became a loss to Iowa at the Final Four.

My guess is that half the people belching their conspiracy theories at us wouldn't know a moving screen from a plasma screen. So let's be clearer than a bottle of Poland Spring here: If they ever want to teach what a textbook moving screen looks like at Referee School, they need only refer to this play.

Don't want to believe it? Free country. But I asked some high level basketball officials their opinions during the day Saturday.

"I was rooting for UConn so the call stings," one official said. "But it was absolutely an illegal screen in my eyes. Especially when the screen is coming from the side and the screener turns her away from the basket — we call that the 'hammer screen' or the screen that occurs right before to get the shooter open. Whenever the defender is moving like that, the screener has to give them enough distance (typically a step) to change speed or direction."

Now comes the bigger question: Just because we've established that Edwards' screen was illegal, should it have been called? I've railed at officials in all sports for many years for failing to understand context. In late-game situations, officials should call only that which is obvious and egregious. The old "if it's a foul at the beginning, it's a foul at the end" is somewhere between myopic and tone deaf.

"It's definitely an illegal screen," another official said. "But to end a team's season on an illegal screen, I'd like there to have been more processing by the official. And there clearly was not. It was just a reactionary call. Her whistle was so immediate, that it showed me there was no real judgment being used.

"If (Paige) Bueckers had ended up with a wide open three as a result of that screen, I could understand calling it. But she didn't. The screener's defender did a good job of switching and Paige was still well guarded at the time of the whistle. I think on most illegal screens, I like to judge the totality of the play. The causes and effects of the screen. So determining it's illegal is step one, but then determining how much advantage was even gained as the play unfolds is the crucial step two. Especially if you're ending a team's season on the play.

"That same screen (in another part of the game) being called, I'd have no issue, even though there was no real advantage gained because you need to send a message to the players that that screen is not acceptable. But at critical times of the game, you can't use that same judgment."

That's why this is so fascinating. Even while two officials agree that Edwards' act was illegal, there isn't necessarily agreement whether the context was right to call it.

"There's probably an illegal screen call that you could make on every single possession," UConn coach Geno Auriemma said after the game. "I just know that there were three or four of them called on us and I don't think there were any called on them."

Diana Taurasi: "That's a terrible call," she said on her ESPN2 show with Sue Bird and Breanna Stewart. "We always talk about letting the players decide the game, especially a benign call like that where you really didn't affect the player. They still got over the screen, it's just tough to end the game like that. ... You want players to decide it, and we didn't get that tonight, which was disappointing."

There's no denying that emotions are influencing Auriemma and Taurasi here. Auriemma may be correct that illegal screens happen in basketball as frequently as holding does in football. It's just that some are subtle and some are obvious. There's no way what Edwards did was "benign."

Again, in the moment, the official must quickly calculate whether a player's action created an advantage/disadvantage situation. Given what officials are taught to look for, Edwards and her moving limbs made her fodder for a whistle.

None of this will change the opinions of the lunatic fringe, which remains fully convinced that the NCAA and ESPN rigged the game so beloved Caitlin Clark would make the championship game. I'd ask them this: If they were so sure the game was rigged, why did they watch in the first place? Doesn't the word "rigged" convey that the outcome was in the bag?

But then that's engaging the conspiracy theorists with critical thinking beyond their bandwidth.

Otherwise, I'm sorry to report that Edwards put Gina Cross in too difficult a position Friday night. At that moment, Edwards had too many moving body parts. It created a "reactionary" call — one that many other officials would have made. Given that not even two well established officials agree on the timing, the fault here doesn't all lie with the official. Some belongs to Edwards. Too risky a move with the season on the line.

This is the opinion of Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro