Sunday’s national championship game between LSU and Iowa — a 102-85 victory for Kim Mulkey and the Lady Tigers — represented a huge step forward in the popularity of women’s college basketball.
It also drew a record-9.9 million viewers: That’s more views than the Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl in college football’s bowl season. But it didn’t represent a complete victory for the sport, as inconsistent officiating, including a much-criticized technical against Iowa’s Caitlin Clark, became a massive talking point during and after the game.
The game featured 37 fouls, 18 against Iowa and 19 against LSU. But LSU’S LaDhazia Williams finished the game with four fouls while Angel Reese and Alexis Morris finished with three apiece. Iowa’s Clark had four fouls, while fellow starters Monika Czinano and McKenna Warnock fouled out.
John Adams, the NCAA’s former national coordinator of officiating for men’s basketball from 2008 through 2015, said the officials' performance detracted from that of the players.
“From a fan standpoint, there was enormous disappointment with how the game was officiated because the best players were not playing,” Adams told The Athletic’s Nicole Auerbach. “Having that level of officiating in that type of game, I think, really hurt the meteoric rise of women’s basketball. There is not perfect officiating anywhere ever, but, man, that was awful.”
He didn’t save his scathing criticism for after the game, either. Adams — who told Auerbach he made a point to meet with his officials every Final Four to remind them the best players should be playing — tweeted throughout Sunday’s game.
He was particularly critical of the times officials swallowed their whistles when Clark was shooting, as well as the technical Clark garnered for her fourth personal foul:
Just saw the T on 22. Absolute bull💩— John W. Adams (@jwasports) April 2, 2023
Here is the violation that gave Clark the technical:
They just gave Caitlin Clark a technical foul for this 🤔— NBACentral (@TheNBACentral) April 2, 2023
According to a pool report from after the game, officials justified the call by saying Iowa had already been issued a delay of game warning earlier in the game, and that by failing to immediately pass the ball to an official, Clark was subject to a foul for “attempting to gain an advantage by interfering with the ball.”
Statement from the referee via the pool reporter about Caitlin Clark's technical foul: pic.twitter.com/MlxWoiKRxQ— John Steppe (@JSteppe1) April 2, 2023
Adams was also unhappy with the official who gave Clark a technical foul but declined to T up Mulkey, who several times went on the court and even made contact with an official:
BTW, same official who T’d up Clark later for absolutely nothing. https://t.co/a3qebw972Q— John W. Adams (@jwasports) April 3, 2023
In all, Adams summed up the officiating by saying it ruined his first viewing experience of a women’s college basketball time in several years:
That’s the 1st Women’s game I’ve watched in years. Hoped to see a great game. Didn’t. We certainly have issues in the NCAAM’s officiating business but the officiating in this Natty leaves me speechless, and that’s not easy. If you’re interested , tune in tmw night. Haveagoodweek— John W. Adams (@jwasports) April 2, 2023
Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder expressed her frustrations, as well.
“It’s very frustrating because I didn’t even feel like I could talk to them,” Bluder said after the game. “They wouldn’t even listen. That’s what’s frustrating is there wasn’t even a conversation that could be had.”
Paradoxically, the controversy surrounding Sunday’s officiating may represent another positive step forward in the sport. Enough people cared strongly enough to voice their opinions, so much that “Let them play” became a trending term on Twitter.
Regardless, Sunday’s officiating is widely believed to have taken away what otherwise should have been a crowning achievement for women’s basketball.