March Madness: Championship game sees ref criticisms, baffling explanation for Caitlin Clark technical foul

LSU is your 2023 NCAA women’s basketball national champion, but it got there with a game that had less than champion-level officiating.

The Tigers’ 102-85 win over Iowa on Sunday saw widespread criticism of the refs in charge of the game, for issues including run-of-the-mill blown calls, failing to stop LSU head coach Kim Mulkey from walking all over the court and a bizarre technical foul on Hawkeyes star Caitlin Clark.

Things turned surreal on that Clark foul, which stymied an Iowa comeback attempt late in the third quarter. As far as fans — and the ESPN broadcasters — could tell, Clark had done nothing to warrant such attention:

Caitlin Clark received a technical for this moment.

Do you agree?

— ESPN (@espn) April 2, 2023

The officials’ explanation after the game didn’t exactly help their case. As referee Lisa Jones told a pool reporter, Clark was penalized for a delay of the game by tossing a basketball away during a break in play:

“Iowa received a delay of game warning in the third period at the 7:28 mark for batting the ball away after a made basket, causing a delay. The second offense was when No. 22 from lowa picked up the ball and failed to immediately pass the ball to the nearest official after the whistle was blown. Rule reference — Rule 10, Section 12, Article 3K. The definition of the delay can be found in Rule 4, Section 9, Article 1F, by failing to and it reads, attempting to gain an advantage by interfering with the ball after a goal, or by failing to immediately pass the ball to the nearest official after the whistle is blown.”

That foul was Clark’s fourth of the game, putting her on the brink of fouling out the entire fourth quarter.

To be clear, LSU did not win the championship because the officiating was bad. The mistakes went both ways, and not because the refs were light on the whistles. LSU finished with 18 personal fouls while Iowa had 19, including five fouls each on seniors Monika Czinano and McKenna Warnock.

Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder addresses championship game officiating

Asked about the officiating after the game, Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder hesitated to criticize the refs before questioning a lack of communication:

“I can’t comment on the officials. It’s very frustrating because I feel like I can’t talk to them. They won’t even listen. That’s what’s frustrating is there wasn’t even a conversation that could be had.

“When your two seniors have to sit on the bench — they don’t know they’re seniors. I get it. But those two women didn’t deserve it. I don’t think so. And then Caitlin getting a T. I don’t know. It’s too bad. Yeah, it’s too bad.”

What received the most attention, though, was the officials’ failure to address the behavior of Mulkey, who repeatedly stepped onto the court during play and at one point had to be pushed out of the way by an official as she harangued her:

Seriously how can you make contact with an official and not even get a warning, let alone an automatic T? Wow.

— Paxton Molinari (@paxton_molinari) April 2, 2023

People couldn’t help but notice it — Mulkey’s jacket certainly made it easy for them — and the issue became a major topic of conversation on social media, especially after the Clark technical foul:

Kim Mulkey has walked all over the court and all over the officials and hasn’t managed to get a technical fouls. This has been wild.

— M.A. Voepel (@MAVoepel) April 2, 2023

They gotta get Mulkey off the court. It’s BS they didn’t address that in the first half. She was IN Iowa’s offensive sets. #WFinalFour

— Sarah Spain (@SarahSpain) April 2, 2023

How did Clark get a technical but Kim Mulkey — who has been literally on the court for most of the game — has not??

— Nicole Auerbach (@NicoleAuerbach) April 2, 2023

Kim Mulkey has spent more minutes on the court than Caitlin Clark has

— Ashtyn Butuso (@lil_buts) April 2, 2023

Mulkey didn’t address the officiating after the game, though she did shut down a question about social media and basically said she doesn’t care about it all. Of course, she had happier things to talk about by then.

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