The Duke women's basketball team defeated Pittsburgh, 53-44, on Thursday, but that was not the main topic of conversation in Kara Lawson's postgame press conference. Instead, Lawson expressed her frustration after explaining that the team used a men's ball in the first half of Sunday's loss to Florida State. A regulation men's basketball is larger than a women's ball. The men's ball is is 29.5 inches in circumference and inflates to about 22 ounces and the women's ball is 28.5 inches and inflates to around 20 ounces.
"It's a complete failure," Lawson said.
Lawson said her players were "complaining" about the ball throughout the first half of the Blue Devils' 70-57 loss to the Seminoles. At halftime Duke trailed 30-22.
At halftime, Duke assistant coach Winston Gandy went over the scorer's table and discovered the teams had been playing with a men's ball. The head official switched the ball, and Lawson said the teams played with a women's ball for the remainder of the game. Lawson said mistakes like that would not be made in a men's game.
"This would never happen in a men's game," Lawson said. "It just wouldn't happen, and it's embarrassing for our sport."
Lawson also pointed out that the error could have affected the outcome of a game with some major implications. Duke is in first place in the ACC, but Florida State sits just a half-game behind the Blue Devils in the standings. Lawson said she didn't want to take anything away from the Seminoles, but she does wonder what might have happened if the correct ball was used for the entire game.
"It's been very frustrating that, at this level of basketball, that a mistake like that happens that could have impacted the outcome of the game," Lawson said. "Let me be clear: Florida State beat us. They beat us playing with a men's ball in the first half and a women's ball in the second half. I can't say if we had played with a women's ball in the first half and the second half that we would have won, but they can't say that either.
"It's very frustrating that a game that has so many conference implications and selection and seeding implications was not treated with the utmost respect that players on both teams deserve. Both teams are fighting for a title. Both teams have had great seasons. To do that for players is unacceptable."
Lawson said that Duke conducted its own investigation and determined that a men's basketball was used for the first half. However, the ACC has released a statement saying there was "no evidence to support the claim."
"Upon completion of the game, the conference office was made aware of the allegation and immediately conducted a comprehensive review," the ACC said in its statement. "This included a discussion with all parties involved including game officials, game administrators, table crew and both crews. Following the thorough and objective review process, there was no evidence found to support the claim."
Lawson wanted to appeal and protest the game, but the conference will not allow it, much to the dismay of the Duke head coach.
"You can figure out the people who failed the sport, our players, and both teams," Lawson said. "The lack of accountability is striking. When you make a mistake, you own it, and you own it right away. You don't pass the buck. It's what I teach my players every day. You own them, you own them right away, and you move forward. The first thing you have to do is admit that a mistake was made. I'm not perfect, but I admit when I make a mistake, and a mistake was made here, and it's a big one."