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Jan. 18, 2009: Incident Makes For A Tangled Feat

University of ConnecticutGeno AuriemmaBasketballMaya MooreBig East Conference

Jeff Jacobs column when Syracuse's Nicole Michael was accused of tripping Geno Auriemma.

Breakdowns in athletic decorum, whether by male or female, always cause this sort of consternation. A loss of self-control inevitably leads to finger-pointing. Trust me on this folks. I covered the NHL for 20 years.

I heard all the excuses. I heard the charges and countercharges. I heard the media outrage and fan biases.

Remember this. It's never my team's fault. It's usually the other team's fault. And it's always the fault of the officiating. So whatever I argue here, I'm quite sure some folks will argue otherwise.

The scoreboard is fact: UConn 107, Syracuse 53.

The stat sheet is fact: Maya Moore, who scored a career-high 40 points, stayed in the game until 4:20 remained and the Huskies had run up a 54-point lead.

Yet an afternoon that started with North Carolina coach Sylvia Hatchell addressing whether there is a big gap between No. 1 UConn and the rest of the country - "We'll just have to see" - ended with a mission to close the gap between accusation and reality.

As soon as the handshake line ended Saturday e-mails started arriving: Nicole Michael tripped Geno Auriemma! It was vicious! It's an outrage! She must be punished! Syracuse played like a bunch of thugs! . . .

OK, I admit it. This led me to check out the Boneyard, where similar emotions were being vented.

By this point, the postgame press conferences already had taken place. Jim Clark, a career prosecutor and correspondent for "Full Court Press," acted much more like judge and jury instead of journalist as he leaned hard into Syracuse coach Quentin Hillsman.

"That was about as bush-league as I've seen in covering basketball in the Big East for 12 years," Clark said. "I've never seen a player physically contact a coach before and attempt to trip him. Do you have an answer for that?"

"She tripped a coach?" Hillsman said.

"Yes, she did," Clark said.

"Sir, let me say this," Hillsman said. "You and I are not going to sit back here and debate this. I didn't see it."

If there's physical contact between a college coach and student athlete, there should be a full accounting. In my mind, this is pretty serious business. The facts must be gathered. Some sort of context must be established. Then discipline must be determined.

The truth only counts for everything. That's why I went to WTIC, Ch. 61, and the guys in sports were kind enough to show me the video. I watched it 20 times. Slow motion. Stop motion.

I saw Auriemma mouth off, I mean really mouth off at Michael as they passed in the handshake line. The camera went to Auriemma, so I didn't see what Michael may have said in response. I did see Auriemma start back at Michael and assistant coach Shea Ralph intercept him.

And this is what else I saw. As the handshake lines ended and both passed again, Michael turned toward Auriemma. She looked as if she might get in his grill. Auriemma didn't look at her as he walked past. He tripped on her sneaker. Honest to God, I can't say for sure if she tripped him on purpose, but I'd guess no. However, she positioned herself to cause a problem, and she did.

There was more yapping. Renee Montgomery led a group of UConn players in leading Geno out of harm's way. A group from Syracuse did the same with Michael.

"I think I stepped on somebody's foot. I stumbled or something," Auriemma said.

I asked him again.

"I just said, 'Hey, yo.' I missed her hand or something. It wasn't anything. It wasn't a Cappie Pondexter moment [from a few years back]. Trust me."

It wasn't the end of civilization as we know it, but it wasn't very pretty. Auriemma backed off criticism of some of the things that happened, and it was curious. That's not Geno's way. Was he worried this might take some attention off Moore reaching 1,000 points faster than anybody else in UConn history? Was he worried about Caroline Doty's knee? Was he worried this would take attention off the huge matchup at No. 2 Carolina Monday? Or was he worried that by speaking out, there might be fuller examination of his behavior? Let's face it. That handshake line wasn't our Hall of Fame coach's finest moment.

"I wish I could tell you there was more to it," he insisted. "Kids do funny things when they lose. They were [mad] they lost by 50. They didn't want to have any part of shaking hands. None. Zero . . . I hope my players don't do that."

For the record, Michael held up her high five. She didn't make eye contact, but she held it up.

I approached Auriemma after his press conference just to re-emphasize that it looked as if he was doing plenty of talking. He shot it down. I saw the video - 20 times - I was right.

"If he thinks that," Auriemma said, when pressed by a Syracuse radio guy who said Hillsman said Geno was trying to send him a message by leaving in Moore so long, "he must think there must be a reason to deliver a message."

Hillsman says he wants to win a national championship. He isn't a Type A personality. He's a Type AAA personality. You get the feeling there isn't much that Auriemma likes about him. On this day, Hillsman clearly decided that UConn was going to have to beat him with three-pointers and he was going to beat on UConn physically. The plan failed miserably.

"I don't think our kids did anything dirty," Hillsman said.

Sorry, Q. Michael throwing Moore to the floor wasn't clean. Juanita Ward picking up a technical for throwing an elbow wasn't clean. Auriemma, in fact, stared down at the Syracuse bench a number of times and he got a technical foul for complaining about a non-call.

"He's a pretty animated guy," Auriemma said. "He's a pretty confident guy. At least he hasn't gone as far as calling himself 'The Jewel of The East.' "

That was a jab at Rutgers. On another day I'd find it funnier. On a day when Geno didn't stand up to what really happened, I wasn't laughing.

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