Anecdotally, possession is nine tenths of the law when it comes to property disputes. But how long does it take to establish possession? And how about simultaneous possession? In the climactic moments of Final Four matchup between Louisville and Wichita State, the referees determined it doesn't take long at all.
A controversial held ball call, that was widely believed to have come too fast, may have robbed the Wichita State Shockers of a chance to force overtime against No. 1 overall seed Louisville.
Louisville's Luke Hancock went to the free throw line with 8.8 seconds remaining in the first national semifinal. His team led 70-68 after a Carl Hall layup on the previous Wichita State possession. Hancock drained the first free throw. He missed the second. Ron Baker leapt for the rebound and grabbed it for the Shockers, seemingly giving them a chance to force overtime with a three-point play. As he landed, Baker's momentum carried him back toward Hancock, who reached for the ball. Hancock got his hands tangled with Baker's and appeared to get them on the ball, briefly. Baker soon spun away from Hanock and dished off to teammate Malcolm Armstead. The nearest official, however, whistled for the tie up before Baker could pass the ball.
Possession arrow*: Louisville.
"Wow, that was a little quick," CBS analyst Clark Kellogg said while watching a replay. Fellow analyst Steve Kerr agreed.
"You very easily could have called a foul because his hands were right in on Baker's arms," Kerr said.
Associated Press photographer David J. Phillip captured a moment in the quick sequence and, true to Kerr's description, Hancock's "hands were right in on Baker's arms." Based on the reactions of the Louisville players in the background of the photograph and the fact that Baker has already turned away from Hancock, whose hands are no longer on the ball, it seems that this photo came after the whistle.
With possession returned to them, Rick Pitino's Cardinals would hold on for a 72-68 win. Wichita State never got a chance at a game-tying shot. Baker was asked about the play after his team's tournament run ended.
"I was forced to dribble the ball because I lost my balance," Baker told reporters after the game, via ASAP Sports. "I thought the ball was loose before the whistle was blown. I tapped it to Malcolm. They already called jump ball, so... That's what I was trying to lean for."
Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall was also asked about the controversial call.
"Well, as soon as both players have control of it to prevent a wrestling match, I guess," Marshall told reporters. "So if both players have their hands on it, it should be a held ball."
Here is a look at how the NCAA rule book defines a held ball:
Section 37. Held Ball
Art. 1. A held ball occurs when an opponent places his or her hand(s):
a. So firmly on the ball that control cannot be obtained without undue roughness; or
b. On the ball to prevent an airborne player from throwing the ball or attempting a try and both players return to the playing court with both hands on the ball or (men) the airborne player returns to the playing court never losing control of the ball.
The reaction of many who commented on Twitter was that the refs were too quick with the whistle. What do you think?
[Video via CollegeBasketballTalk]
*Even more confounding for Shockers supporters and referee critics, this possession was determined by a double foul call a few minutes early.