Fair or foul: Rough first month for WNBA officials

Jul 3, 2015, 9:18 AM
n FILE – In this June 21, 2015, file photo, Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve looks to t...
FILE - In this June 21, 2015, file photo, Minnesota Lynx head coach Cheryl Reeve looks to the referee after her team received a foul during the second half of a WNBA basketball game against Tulsa Shock, in Minneapolis. It sure has been a rough first month of the season for WNBA referees. "I don't know if the officials really understand the rules," coach Reeve said last week after her team played Phoenix. (AP Photo/Stacy Bengs, File)n
(AP Photo/Stacy Bengs, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Elena Delle Donne was credited with a basket on a shot that never went through the hoop. Maya Moore needed to prevent fellow WNBA star Skylar Diggins from shooting free throws that weren’t hers to take.

Then there was the call that got Minnesota Lynx coach Cheryl Reeve so mad, she spouted off — fully aware she’d get fined.

It sure has been a rough first month of the season for WNBA referees.

“I don’t know if the officials really understand the rules,” Reeve said last week after her team played Phoenix.

The veteran coach was upset with several rules interpretations that have gone against her team over the last week.

On Saturday, Phoenix committed a foul away from the ball in the final minute, a call that should’ve allowed the Lynx to choose the shooter. The officials instead made Devereaux Peters, the player who was fouled, go to the line. Peters ended up making it.

Because that rule is rarely invoked, the league acknowledged the game officials could have done a better job letting Reeve and her staff know they had options on the free throw.

“The players on the floor knew that any player can shoot the free throw,” said Renee Brown, who is the WNBA’s chief of basketball operations and player relations. “What we could have done better is communicate that better to the Minnesota staff. The rule wasn’t misapplied; it wasn’t communicated at the level it should have been.”

Minnesota’s Moore needed to do her own policing against Tulsa when Diggins was about to attempt free throws she wasn’t supposed to take. The officials were able to sort that one out before Diggins shot. The Lynx faced a similar situation against Seattle as well.

“The things that have happened in our games are embarrassing,” said Reeve, who was fined by the league for her postgame comments.

“There are some things that are unacceptable,” she added. “If we’re going to be held accountable, I think they should be held accountable.”

The most egregious error came June 19 in a game between Chicago and Atlanta.

The Sky’s Delle Donne was credited with a basket she didn’t even score. The league’s leading scorer was fouled with 1:42 left and her shot attempt didn’t go in, yet officials gave her the two points and one free throw. The Dream bench didn’t notice it quickly enough for the officials to review it in time.

Atlanta went on to win that game by a point on a last-second shot by Angel McCoughtry. Had the Dream lost, they could have protested.

“It was a huge mistake,” the WNBA’s Brown said. “The officials looked at it and said it was a mistake.”

The officials from that game were fined, the league acknowledged.

“That was weird. That was really weird,” Liberty coach Bill Laimbeer said of the play.

The veteran coach said problems tend to be worse early in the season.

“They are trying to do the best they can. The game’s faster in our league. It happens so quick and is more physical. A lot of the young referees have to adjust. The veteran referees know what’s going on,” Laimbeer said. “There’s going to be a learning curve early in the season. You’ve got to fight your way through it, grit your teeth. You turn clips into the league and hope that as time goes by it gets rectified.”

While there have been some missed calls, the number of fouls this season is at the same pace as last year, according to STATS. Also, it’s mostly a veteran group of officials, with over 90 percent of them retained from the season before.

“We’re very proud of that,” Brown said. “They are out there being the best they can be. The best in the game. They are very proud in making the right call. They want to make the right call. Sometimes mistakes happen.”


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Fair or foul: Rough first month for WNBA officials