LOUISVILLE, Ky.– Sixteen seconds left. UCLA’s Bryce Alford gets the ball on the baseline. He’s being chased by SMU’s Nic Moore. Alford moves to his left, along the three point arc. He moves around a screen, losing Moore, and squares up to the basket. To his back, the UCLA fans that traveled to Louisville, Ky, hoping see their 11th seeded Bruins defeat the sixth seed Mustangs.
SMU’s Markus Kennedy is barreling towards Alford, the 20-year old guard already hit eight threes for the Bruins and Kennedy desperately wants to prevent another. Thirteen seconds left.
Kennedy closed out well and Alford has to lean back, he elevates and shoots a long, fade away three. Twelve seconds left.
The shot looks to be off the mark and as the ball approaches the rim, SMU senior Yanick Moreira reaches up, tips the ball away from the basket, and fights for the rebound. A whistle blows. Goaltending.
The team of officials huddle around the video board. Three points. UCLA takes a 60-59 lead over SMU.
SMU senior Ryan Manuel brings the ball up the court. He moves to his left, dishes right, finds Moore coming off a Markus Kennedy screen. Five seconds left.
Moore’s three hits the front of the rim, Kevon Looney secures the rebound for UCLA, but SMU’s Sterling Brown knocks it away. The ball bounces back to Moore. Two seconds left.
Moore fires again. When the ball leave his hand, he knows its off the mark. He leans to the left and bounces on his leg- willing the ball to fall in. But it doesn’t. It hits the front of the rim and falls to the floor. Zero seconds left.
Moore claps his hands together in frustration. Kennedy collapses under the basket. Moriera puts his jersey over his face and walks off the court. Brown turns away, tugs at his jersey, and yells. From the bench, senior Cannen Cunningham drapes a towel over his face and Ben Moore stares at the court, mouth agape, eyes blank, unable or unwilling to process what just happened.
SMU’s first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 1993 was done. Their dance, just as quickly as it had begun, was over.
“It’s all my fault,” Yanick says. “I should have let the ball hit the rim. I take the blame on myself. I shouldn’t have made that mistake. As a senior” — his voice cracks— “you can’t make those mistakes at the end of the game.”
For a play to result in a goaltend, the ball must be “on its downward flight” and have “the possibility, while in flight, of entering the basket.” However, goaltending is not a reviewable play. When the officials went to the scorers table, they decided whether Alford made a two or a three-point shot.
Alford, a sophomore from Albuquerque, NM., led the Bruins with 27 points. Every shot he made, was three. And to him, goaltending was the right call.
“I had a pretty good look at it because I shot it,” Bryce Alford says. “From my angle, I saw [Looney] and another player going after it, and I was confused because he went up and grabbed it on its way to the rim. I don’t know if it would have gone in or not, but he definitely grabbed it on the way.”
Thursday saw SMU get off to another slow star, and UCLA took a 34-30 lead into the second half. However, after a stagnant start to the second half, SMU put together a 19-0 run to take a nine point lead with 4:34 left in the game. The Bruins responded with a 16-4 run to close out the game.
It was a tough game. It was a battle. Both teams had control of the game at one point and both surrendered that control too. However, this game will be remembered for the goaltending call- whether it was right or wrong.
“That’s kinda heartbreaking.” SMU head coach Larry Brown says. “It’s not crying over spilled milk, but why would you have all these TV people here and take five seconds to review a goaltending? It might have been goaltending. It probably was. But we’ve got all these cameras. It happened so fast. I never saw a game end like that.”