So, too, was it a painful one for the Wisconsin fans who saw their team sitting pretty up nine with 13 minutes to go and both of Duke’s big men, Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow, on the bench in foul trouble. That’s when Duke frosh Grayson Allen -- who averaged four points a game this year -- scored eight in a row while the Badgers only scored three, and suddenly all was in doubt again.
It was a game full of such surges, and in truth it felt all along like whichever team happened to be on the high end of the see-saw as they entered the endgame was likely to come away with the win. That’s how it turned out, albeit with a few key calls down the stretch that helped the Devils, all involving Winslow.
The first came with just over nine minutes left when Wisconsin was up 54-50. Duje Dukan (who seems like he should have been playing for the other team with that name) was called for a blocking foul after colliding with Winslow in the lane, one of those to-MAY-to/to-MAH-to judgment calls that always looks a certain way depending on the team for which you’re rooting. Okafor had just been benched again after collecting his fourth foul, and a charge would’ve meant four on Winslow, too. But it went Dook’s way and after Winslow sank two free throws the lead was down to two.
The second occurred after the Blue Devils had moved in front by a point, 59-58. With about three-and-a-half minutes to go, Winslow grabbed an offensive rebound and then appeared to step on the endline, but the refs missed it. Okafor would score on that possession to make the lead three. Bad break again for the Badgers.
The third one then came a little after that, not long after the Blue Devils had pushed out ahead to lead 63-58. This one involved an out-of-bounds play that occurred with just a little under two minutes to go, with the on-court call being Dook ball but with enough doubt for the refs to review the replay. We watched, too, and this time it was obvious -- Winslow was the last player to touch the ball (that’s a freeze-frame of the play above; click to embiggen). But somehow the refs didn’t see it that way, Dook retained possession, and seconds later hit a three-pointer to push the lead to eight.
Even so, the latter was one of those calls (or non-calls) that like the previous two can also be put in the category of “variance” -- i.e., like other manifestations of luck that occur in the game, the whims (and occasional failings) of the refs also have to be considered similarly. Still, since all three of these came at such potentially tide-turning moments, it’s hard not to assign them extra signficance.
A couple of weeks ago a long, interesting profile of poker pro Brian Rast by Chad Holloway was posted over on PokerNews, and the article included the story of Rast’s victory in the $50K Poker Players Championship at the 2011 WSOP. Recall how that tournament ended with Rast battling Phil Hellmuth heads-up, a duel that involved not one but three huge “coin-flip” type events, all of which went Rast’s way.
Hellmuth had built a 4.5-to-1 chip lead when the first happened, one in which Rast was all in with A-K on a ten-high flop versus Hellmuth’s flush draw, and neither the turn nor the river brought the flush. Then came another hand in which Rast flopped top pair versus another Hellmuth flush draw, the chips went in again, and Rast’s hand held a second time.
The third time it happened, Hellmuth was the one all in on the flop -- again with a flush draw -- and this time Rast had flopped even more strongly with a straight. For a third time Hellmuth couldn’t complete the flush, and Rast won.
All three weren’t exactly coin flips -- Rast’s edges were about 52%, 60%, and 63% in those hands when the money went in -- but to win all three was certainly fortunate for him. Just as having all three of those moments go Dook’s way was fortunate for them.
In both last night’s game and the Rast-Hellmuth finale, those moments were only relatively small instances within the larger competitions, though their effect on the final outcomes was much larger than was the case for all of the other instances. The players weren’t in control of how those moments played out in either case, but that can’t be a complaint -- because that’s how the games are played.