MINNEAPOLIS -- A dejected Bruce Pearl exited the elevated court at U.S. Bank Stadium on Saturday night. No words as he headed to the tunnel, no emotion as swaths of fans shouted around him in bedlam. He was spent. After 40 minutes worth of screaming and scheming his Auburn Tigers in a back-and-forth battle with Virginia, he was coming to grips with reality that he had just coached his last game of the season.
Virginia defeated Auburn 63-62 after Cavaliers guard Kyle Guy hit three free throws after being fouled attempting a game winner with less than a second on the clock, turning an almost certain triumph -- the Tigers led by four with 17 seconds remaining -- into devastating defeat.
"We weren't supposed to be here," said Pearl after the game replaying 40 thrilling minutes that unfolded at U.S. Bank Stadium. "This will be a memorable game, and I'd like it to be remembered for a great game. Let's not remember this game because of just how it ended. Let's remember two teams that played really hard that only had 13 turnovers combined, didn't shoot it very well because there was great defense."
About that game's ending: Pearl dodged questions about it after the game. But in the final eight seconds, Jared Harper missed a free throw, the officials missed a double-dribble on Virginia's Ty Jerome, and Auburn was called for a foul that sent Kyle Guy, an 81.8 percent foul shooter, to the line to essentially win it. And win it he did, knocking down all three to take Virginia from down two to up one.
"My advice, as an administrator of the game, is if that's a foul, call it," said Pearl, not tipping his hand one way or another about if he agreed or disagreed with the officiating in the final seconds.
The game was called loosely throughout, and as a result, the game flew by. The under-four minutes media timeout was skipped in the first half because things were moving along without whistles. So the controversial foul in the final second seemed to not sit well with Pearl and Auburn, given the physicality that was allowed the first 39 minutes and 59 seconds.
"Call it at the beginning of the game, call it in the middle of the game, call it at the end of the game," said Pearl. "Don't call it any more or less at any other time during the game. That was the call."
"I didn't think it was a foul," said Auburn guard Bryce Brown. "The refs thought otherwise."
Pearl, for as much emotion as he showed throughout the game, was stoic and subdued. As he left his press conference for Auburn's locker room in a golf cart, there was no shouting, no flailing arms as he'd done minutes earlier on the court. Only one more interview, an on-camera discussion to try and relive the nightmare that had just unfolded.
"Give Virginia credit, they won the game," he said hoarsely. "It's a 40 minute game. I don't want a couple of calls to be the defining [act]."