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The Phantom Elbow

knee-face-cousins
Knee? Meet Boogie. Boogie? Meet knee.

I’m already on record stating that I think it is a stretch to assume that DeMarcus Cousins ‘elbow’ to Swopshire’s head was intentional. It was clear to me that there was a tangled mess on the floor and automatically assuming that there was clear intent to harm isn’t fair to the players. It is one thing to infer intent to harm from two players throwing haymakers, but it is another to assign malicious intent when two players are wrestling for the ball.

Good thing it is the year 2009 and we have DVR’s. If you recorded the game, feel free to follow along with the action as I diagram the play second by second. Allow me to set the stage. The refs had just called 2 quick fouls on UK and one on Louisville in the first 30 seconds of the game. The striped shirts seemed to be looking to reign in the emotions and make sure the players didn’t get out of control. The next trip up the floor this happens (using frame by frame from the side court camera):

19:24 Miller throws the entry pass into Cousins.
19:22 Cousins spins in the lane and goes up strong and is stripped (no call)
19:20 Patterson dives on the floor for the ball, kicking it, and knocking it out of the lane (no call)
19:21 John Wall and Jerry Smith collide at the 3 point line, knocking the ball back toward the paint and Jared Swopshire (no call)
19:19 Cousins dives for the ball that is passing through Swopshire’s legs (no call)
19:17 Cousins and Swopshire get tangled up and Cousins, on the floor and behind a crouching Swopshire, pulls Swopshire backwards by his hips (no call) but Boogie clearly has his arm under Swopshire’s legs and his hand is on the basketball.
19:16 Wall and Patterson run toward the scrum and stick their hands toward the ball while Swopshire rolls over Cousins and knees Cousins directly in the cheek (no call)
19:15 THIS IS KEY. At this point, both Cousins and Swopshire have their arms wrapped around the ball and are tangled together. As Cousins is trying to pull the basketball away (and as Swopshire is twisting Cousins around and across his body) Boogie’s FOREARM strikes the side of Swopshire’s face.

COUSINS’ ELBOW NEVER STRUCK SWOPSHIRE. Seriously. Get your DVR. Watch it in frame by frame slow motion. Demarcus’ elbow never touches Swopshire’s face. It misses it by good 4-5 inches. Take a look:

no-elbow
The elbow is not touching the face. Cousins still looking at the ball, trying to pry it away.

I mention this because it takes a certain type of contortion to elbow someone in the face. It is tough to imagine an elbow hitting someone unintentionally in the face during a scrum. However, a forearm to the side of the head when you are wrestling on the ground with the ball chest high and both players fighting for control? That doesn’t sound as nefarious, does it? Back to the action:

19:15 The two refs on either side of the main camera run into the picture, whistles blowing, calling. . .JUMP BALL!
19:14 Hilarity ensues.

So, to recount, after calling 3 quick, glancing fouls to start the game the refs then allowed over 6 seconds of physical play on the floor. Bad job outta the stripes. They could have prevented that whole sequence with one of five calls (any of which could have gone for or against UK) before the knee and the forearm incidents.

Again, as you keep watching the play, I don’t see how anyone can just assume that Cousins’ forearm is intentional. To even entertain that idea, you then also have to assume that Swopshire’s knee was equally as intentional. That being the case, I would much rather take a forearm to the side of the head rather than a knee to the cheekbone, but that is splitting hairs.

The announcers, Clark Kellogg and Verne Lundquist, pretty much just watch the camera angle underneath the basket. From that one view, they immediately blame Cousins for a ‘wrestling move’ and don’t even look at it in slow motion. In fact, on the second replay, while Cousins is getting kneed in the face (hard to see from the camera angle underneath the basket), Kellogg states ‘no problem here’. The talk then goes to potential ejection and Cousins is damned from that point forward. When they finally do show the side shot replay again, Kellogg breaks off his commentary (which was defending Swopshire) because the arena announcer begins detailing the decision of the refs. Had both gentlemen not had their attention diverted at that moment, they might have changed their tune on Cousins and certainly would have noted the knee by Swopshire.

If we are using the benefit of the doubt for Cousins and Swopshire, with everything that was occurring and the instant replays not being slowed down, it is hard to totally fault either announcer for their reactions. Calling a game is difficult and they not only had to recap the replays but parse the actions of the refs and their decisions (I still wasn’t clear how many fouls were called and on who while watching the game). This doesn’t excuse Seth Davis and Tim Brando, though. The half time guys had the benefit of time and slow motion replay. There is no excuse for them to not mention the knee to the face or come down so adamantly against Cousins. Davis called it ‘clearly a combative act’ that should have resulted in immediate ejection. Brando called the lack of an ejection ‘unconscionable’. But not the knee to the face, huh guys?

It is this type of one-sided reaction that makes it frustrating to be a Kentucky fan. Brando and Davis never consider the forearm as an unintended consequence of a player trying to wrestle the ball away from an opponent. They only assume the worst and think nothing of trashing a 19 year old on national television. While I don’t agree with the perspective, I can see where one would admonish Cousins but only if equal admonishment is applied to Swopshire. At least keep it fair. It is the lack of condemnation for Swopshire that is most bothersome. Well. That and people mistaking a forearm for an elbow.

Christopher Johns is a Kentucky native that still resides in the Lexington area. A 2000 graduate of the University of Kentucky Gatton College of Business and Economics, he is currently working in the IT field for a large healthcare firm. You can contact him on Twitter or via email.

Article written by Christopher Johns