LAWRENCE, Kan. — If you’re a sports fan, Phog Allen Fieldhouse is a must-visit. To walk through the tunnel from the ultra-modern concourse into the gym itself is as close as you’ll get to time travel.
You can feel the history when you go to venues like Fenway Park or Wrigley Field, but there are obvious touches of modernity. If you never look up at the video board at The Phog, you feel like you’re actually living in the past.
The Allen Fieldhouse experience is decidedly less enjoyable for opposing coaches. Trips to Kansas are less “Back to the Future” and more “Groundhog Day,” particularly for Bob Huggins and the West Virginia Mountaineers.
It is not merely an urban legend that the Jayhawks get a home whistle — or occasional lack thereof while playing a physical brand of defense. Saturday was evidence enough.
Early in the second half, the Jayhawks took their first lead since the first minute of the game on one of the most curious calls you’ll ever see — a foul on Oscar Tshiebwe after KU center Udoka Azubuike completed an alley-oop over his head. Huggins contemptuously waved his arms in the “you can keep it” gesture on that call, which Azubuike successfully converted into a three-point play.
Tshiebwe was involved in another of the game’s interesting calls — a jump ball that was signaled when Kansas forward Silvio De Sousa’s arms were wrapped around Tshiebwe’s neck in his effort to force the tie-up.
Statistically, Derek Culver played poorly on Saturday, finishing with 5 points on 1 of 6 shooting. Culver was also getting clobbered in the paint by double-teams on several possessions. While he did end up shooting five free throws, that number likely should have been doubled.
But by previously established standards, the officiating was more of an occasional distraction than a deciding factor. The Mountaineers can’t blame anyone but themselves for shooting 21 percent from three-point range or 54.5 percent at the free-throw line.
This wasn’t 2018, when West Virginia laughably took two free throws compared to KU’s 35. And perhaps that explains why Huggins struck a semi-sympathetic tone when asked about the officials after Saturday’s game.
Huggins essentially compared officiating to the Supreme Court, where judges can interpret the same event in dramatically different ways. Obviously, he wishes that were not the case. But he understands the reality.
“I’m not going to get into trouble for saying this, because this is not degrading,” Huggins said. “But you’ve got three guys out there who all see the game differently. We’ve got 10 coaches in the league, and they all see how to play the game of basketball differently.
“So you get a call on one end from a guy who thinks he made the right call, and probably did. And then you don’t get that same call on the other end because there’s another guy down there who didn’t think that was a play that should be called. So then all the sudden you’re saying ‘Why are you calling it down there but not calling it down here?’
“But they’re not. That’s hard on officials. And we’re never going to have the same [exact] crew. I understand that. But I think that makes it hard on them. You’ve got fans booing you when they’re doing the replay thing because you either did or didn’t call something that the other guy did or passed on. And it happens awfully fast.
“It’s a hard deal. If they didn’t get paid so damn much, I’d feel bad for them. But since I know what their paycheck is, I don’t feel a bit sorry for them.”