AP gives its version, D2
When Monday night's Utah-Notre Dame game goes in the record books of the National Invitation Tournament, it won't tell the whole story. Not by a long shot. It will show only the score: Notre Dame 58, Utah 55. It won't tell how the Utes, after trailing all night, took the lead for the first time in the game's final seconds. It won't show that the Utes seemed to have victory in hand, that they had one foot in Wednesday's championship finals. Most of all it won't show that their coach, Rick Majerus, gave it all away.The same driving, obsessive force that makes Majerus arguably the best coach in the land at directing young men on a basketball court also makes him a liability with his temperamental outbursts.
Last season he was calm and cool on the sidelines, rarely even speaking to referees, yet alone harrassing them, as most coaches do as routinely as putting on a tie. Majerus was exercising restraint for the sake of his own health, having undergone open heart surgery less than a year earlier. But he has been like a man who, having seen an automobile accident, drives slowly for a while and then resumes speeding.
This season the coach's outbursts have become increasingly common. He has shouted and cursed at scorekeepers, referees and players, some of which was overheard by radio and TV audiences.
He exploded in Laramie, Wyo., with his infamous foot-stomping, table-pounding, expletive-filled tantrum. He threw a minor fit in Tempe, Ariz. He raged against Rhode Island last week in the third round of the NIT - the game that sent the Utes to New York for the NIT Final Four. He exploded again Monday in New York's Madison Square Garden, and this time it probably cost the Utes a victory.
With nine seconds left in the game and Utah leading 55-54, Notre Dame passed the ball to LaPhonso Ellis near the lane where he had posted up Paul Afeaki. As he turned, he dribbled the ball off his foot, and Utah's Byron Wilson picked up the loose ball. But by then the referee was whistling for a foul on Afeaki for kneeing Ellis in the back of the knees.
Ellis himself didn't exactly support the referee's call. "The referee told both teams to watch the knees, but the kneeing had been going on all night," said Ellis. "He (Afeaki) gave me a little bump, but it was an interesting call to say the least."
"That's exactly what had been going on the whole night," said Afeaki. "I didn't even know I bumped him. I thought the foul must be on Byron."
And how did Irish coach John MacLeod see it? "I thought he got bumped. The official had a clear shot at it . . . There was no hesitation on the whistle."
Majerus, who was initially restrained by his assistants, certainly didn't see it that way. He slammed his fist on the scorer's table and shouted profanities. The referee whistled a technical. Just like that, the prognosis for the Utes went from critical to fatal.
Ellis made his first foul shot and missed his second to tie the score. Daimon Sweet made both technical free throws, as Majerus cursed at the offending official. On the resulting possession, Elmer Bennett made one of two free throws to give Notre Dame a four-point swing and a 58-55 lead. As the clock wound down, Phil Dixon took a hurried three-point shot under pressure, but missed, and the Utes had lost.
Afterward, Majerus told his players to get ready for Wednesday's consolation game against Florida - a 62-56 loser to Virginia in the night's other semifinal game - and that he felt bad that he had lost the game for them. His players fled the scene quickly to gather their emotions, some of them refusing requests to come to the interview room.
"It was deserved," said Majerus of the technical. "I cost my team the game . . . I lost my head."
It wasn't the first time. Majerus had had other outbursts - one in the first half and another earlier in the second half. The latter occurred when the referees issued a mystery technical to the Ute bench. No one was ever sure of the reason. Majerus asked each of his players near the end of the bench if they had said anything, but they all said no.
"He (the official) said it was on the fourth guy from the end of the bench, and that was (graduate assistant) Rob Harmon," said Afeaki. Someone else thought the technical was on injured star Josh Grant, who also was watching the game from the end of the bench.
"I don't know who it was on," said Majerus. "Josh thought it might be on him. But they all said they didnt say a word. I got six Mormon kids I'll put a lie detector on."
The technical did little to hurt Utah at the time. Sweet made only one technical foul shot, and the Irish failed to score on the possession, leaving them with a four-point lead. The real damage came later. It set the stage for Majerus' final outburst.
"I was so irate with the first technical," said Majerus while explaining his game-deciding technical.If Majerus' histrionics lost the game for the Utes, his coaching also got them in position to win. They trailed 22-9 in the early going and were unable to stop Ellis. But then Majerus abandoned his favored man-to-man defense with various zones that confounded the Irish the remainder of the night. By halftime, the Irish's lead had been cut to 29-21.
With 12:42 left in the game, Dixon tied the game 35-all on a jump shot, but the Irish eventually opened a five-point lead. The Utes made another run in the final three minutes. Dixon made a three-point bucket, and the 5-foot-8 Soto made weaving drives through the big men in the lane for two more baskets. With 35 seconds left, Dixon made a three-pointer from the corner to give Utah its first lead of the night, 55-54.
All the Utes had to do was stop the Irish one more time, as they had much of the second half. "I felt like we could stop them the way we were playing defensively," said Soto.
But then came the foul call and the technical. "I feel bad about that," said MacLeod. "I hate to see that happen." So do the Utes.