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NCAA basketball referee is target of death threats after Kentucky game

By Eric Olson

AP Sports Writer

OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Referee John Higgins of Omaha reported he received death threats after Kentucky’s loss to North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament, a Nebraska law enforcement official said Wednesday.

Higgins’ roofing company received about 3,000 harassing emails and an unknown number of phone calls, some including death threats, said Capt. Kevin Griger, investigations commander for the Sarpy County Sheriff’s Department.

North Carolina defeated Kentucky 75-73 on Sunday to advance to the Final Four, winning on Luke Maye’s last-second shot. Kentucky coach John Calipari opened his news conference with a comment about foul calls, complaining about freshmen stars Bam Adebayo, De’Aaron Fox and Malik Monk each picking up two fouls in the first half.

“You know, it’s amazing that we were in that game where they practically fouled out my team. Amazing that we had a chance,” Calipari said.

Calipari on Wednesday tried to calm the fan reaction on Twitter.

“I always brag that we have the classiest fans in the country,” Calipari said. “Let’s make sure we remain that way even after a tough loss.”

The Facebook page for Higgins’ roofing company also was inundated with negative comments about Higgins and the quality of his company’s work. Griger described it as an orchestrated effort to “run down his Better Business Bureau rating.”

Higgins also spoke with Omaha Police Chief Todd Schmaderer about death threats he received on his home phone, which has an unlisted number, a person with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press. The person requested anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.

Higgins’ home is in Omaha, in Douglas County, and his roofing company’s office is in neighboring Sarpy County. Omaha police spokesman Michael Pecha said officers are providing extra attention to Higgins’ residence.

Dan Gavitt, the NCAA’s senior vice president of basketball, said Higgins is still scheduled to work one of the games in the Final Four in Glendale, Arizona, on Saturday.

Higgins will be working his eighth Final Four.

Gavitt said that while the NCAA appreciates the passion fans bring to college basketball, the behavior of some fans toward Higgins is not appropriate.

“John is one of the most experienced and qualified college referees in the country, evidenced by his many years of officiating during March Madness, and for some fans to not only question his character but also criticize his private business is unfortunate,” Gavitt said. “While we understand it’s nearly impossible to officiate a game without fans getting upset about a call, it’s also important that behavior during or after a game reflects the same standards of good sportsmanship that we encourage of our coaches and student-athletes.”

It’s unclear whether the two other officials who worked the game, Keith Kimble and Mike Reed, received any threats.

The Kentucky athletic department released a statement asking fans to show good sportsmanship.

Griger said Higgins on Tuesday spoke with Sarpy County investigators about the death threats. None of the threats were specific, Griger said.

He said investigators would go through each Facebook message to determine its credibility and, if any are found to be credible, would work with Facebook to locate the sender.

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For more AP college basketball coverage: http://collegebasketball.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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