Women's Final Four: Late phantom call mars Iowa-UConn ending

Women's Final Four: Late phantom call mars Iowa-UConn ending

On Friday night in Cleveland, Caitlin Clark and Iowa defeated Paige Bueckers 71-69 to advance to the national title game against undefeated South Carolina – but not without some late-game drama.

With Iowa just leading by one 70-69 with 9 seconds left, UConn had possession for the final shot in the game. Out of the timeout, the Huskies tried to run a split action for Bueckers with Aaliyah Edwards screening and Nika Muhl passing the ball. As the screen was set with Bueckers veering back towards Muhl to receive the pass and get ready to shoot, Hawkeyes guard Gabbie Marshall fought over the screen by Edwards which ended up with the play getting called for an offensive foul for setting an illegal screen with just around 3 seconds left in the game.

It was a questionable foul call, to say the least – sparking a debate each with contrasting sides to tell.

It set the internet ablaze and everyone was talking about it. Notable NBA and WNBA stars each chimed in on X with their thoughts on the questionable call, citing how the players should decide the outcome of the game with their plays whether it be good or bad rather than laying it up for the referees to decide.

SportsCenter host Scott Van Pelt and ESPN Women’s Basketball analyst Andraya Carter didn’t agree with the call either.

“I hated the call. You’ve got to give Gabbie Marshall credit for trying to fight over the screen. That’s what drew the refs’ attention in,” Carter said on SportsCenter after the game. “But to me, now that final play it’s not about Iowa’s defense. It’s about the call the referee made. There was a slight lean, maybe Aaliyah Edwards’ elbow was slightly out. But to be honest the calls were even for both sides. There were missed calls for Iowa. There were missed contacts for UConn. To make that call at the very end of the game – to me, it took away the opportunity for players to make plays. … To be honest, that call sucked.”

WNBA legends Diana Taurasi and Sue Bird, who had their ESPN segment ‘The Bird and Taurasi Show’ grace the Final Four, also shared their thoughts in real-time with UConn legend Breanna Stewart while commentating and watching the game live.

“Oh my god,” expressed a visibly disappointed Taurasi. “Wow, what an unfortunate time to call an offensive foul. Just know how to ruin the game – oh my god that’s terrible. It didn’t even get her open – that’s a tough play. We always talk about letting the players decide the game, especially in a benign call like that. It’s just tough to end the game like that.”

Legendary coach Geno Auriemma could not hide his disappointment as well in the post-game conference, saying UConn maybe should just get better at not setting illegal screens. “There’s probably an illegal screen call you could make on every single possession, and I just know there were three or four called on us – and I don’t think any were called on them.”

Clark and Final Four hero Hannah Stuelke – who played perhaps the best game of her life by scoring 23 points – thought their teammate Marshall did a good job of fighting over the screen, praising how she has been one of the nation’s best defenders.

“Gabbie is great in those situations. She always comes up with big plays, a block, or whatever,” Stuelke said. “You always see it time and time again, [Marshall] does not get enough credit for what she does,” Clark added. “She guards one of the best players in the country and it challenges her quite a bit. Paige had a great game but I thought Gabbie just played great defense on her. Even when Paige made some tough baskets, Gabbie just responded and kept going up there and guarded her.”

Despite the tough loss, Bueckers took the high road and remained a positive attitude after what transpired late in the game.

"Players play and players decide the game. Everybody can make a big deal out of one single play but one single play doesn’t win or lose a basketball game," Bueckers admitted. "... You can look at one play and say oh that killed us or that hurt us. We should have done a better job, I should have done a better job making sure didn’t leave the game up to that."

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