No blame for UCF loss
BY MIKE BIANCHI
ORLANDO SENTINEL / TNS
ORLANDO – As of Tuesday morning, Central Florida basketball coach Johnny Dawkins still couldn’t bear to watch the tape of the heartbreaking, oh-so-close loss to top-seeded Duke in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, but he still refused to blame the defeat on some questionable officiating non-calls at the end of the game.
Many UCF fans and neutral observers thought there were two or three non-calls that went Duke’s way at the end of the game that could have been the difference in UCF winning and losing – specifically when Duke phenom Zion Williamson missed a free-throw attempt with 14 seconds left as UCF’s Aubrey Dawkins attempted to box out Blue Devils freshman RJ Barrett.
Replays show that Barrett pushed Dawkins in the back before retrieving the offensive rebound and scoring on the game-winning layup.
When asked about the play after the game, Aubrey Dawkins said, “I thought I got pushed in the back a little bit, but I don’t know. It happened so fast, but I could have sworn I got pushed in the back. Refs make calls sometimes and they miss calls; that’s life. Unfortunately for us they didn’t see anything, but a great play by him (Barrett) to have the presence of mind to pursue the ball.”
Said Johnny Dawkins on our Open Mike radio show Tuesday morning: “You know me, we’re a no-excuse program. No excuses. We had our opportunities. … That play doesn’t decide the game for us. We had opportunities; we just did not make enough plays down the stretch. It had nothing to do with a play like that.
No knockout punch
“To beat a team of that caliber; I always use boxing analogies with our team: I always tell our guys, you’re not going to outpoint the champs; you have to knock champions out. We were close. I thought we had them on the ropes, but we just couldn’t knock them out.
“They showed who they were. They showed their character. Look, they have a once-in-a-generation player in Zion Williamson. Some of the plays he made put them in that position. Give them credit. He made plays, quite frankly, that I haven’t seen a college basketball player make in a long time.”
Here are some other tidbits from the Dawkins interview Tuesday:
- On how agonizingly close his son Aubrey’s last-second tip came from going in and giving UCF a victory for the ages: “Literally I just watched that play over again about five minutes before calling in to your show. I hadn’t wanted to see it and I haven’t watched any of the game, but I got curious about what happened on that last play. We got the look we wanted. We got B.J. (Taylor) where we wanted him on the floor – to his sweet spot – and got the shot he loves.
‘It hung on’
“Aubrey came in and made a great play and tip at the end. And it hung on the rim and hung on the rim; and you’re thinking it’s going in; and it just rolls out. I don’t know how it didn’t go. But that’s the nature of our sport. It’s about inches and we just missed it by a few inches.”
- On whether Aubrey has decided to come back for his senior season: “We have not sat down and discussed that at all. Right now, we’re still recovering from a hard-fought battle. I’m sure at some point in time over the next few weeks we’ll sit down and try to figure out where he is, but now is not the time.”
- On his emotional post-game speech in which he told his sobbing players, “We’ve always said it’s going to end one of two ways when you invest like we’ve invested. It’s going to end celebrating or it’s going to end crying. It’s going to end in tears. We end in tears. That’s because we invested so much in each other.”
- Asked how hard it was for him to keep his composure in that heart-wrenching moment, Coach Dawkins replied: “It was difficult. I had even extra emotions because that was my mentor and my coach and my friend. (Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski).
“Like I said in the speech, that’s what happens when you invest in each other throughout a season like that; when everybody makes sacrifices to get to that point. You don’t get there without sacrificing and everyone sacrificed. That’s why I think you saw the overall outpouring of emotions.”
- On whether he’s privately broken down into tears in two days since the game: “I’ve had a few tough moments and you’re to relive this for a while, but the thing I’ve learned from these experiences is that it passes and you’ll remember fondly all the things that you did to get there and the amazing moments you shared with your team. It’s difficult right now; it’s difficult for all of
us;but our guys will get stronger from this experience and so will I.”
- On the long, emotional embrace he shared with Coach K after the game: “I know there was a lot of excitement around the game, but for he and I that was a no-win situation for both of us. You could tell how difficult it was for him and for me. It’s just tough. Even reliving it now is tough.”