' ' Cinema Romantico: A Digression: UNI Stands For Undoing Notable Ill Luck

Monday, March 22, 2010

A Digression: UNI Stands For Undoing Notable Ill Luck

Symmetry. Destiny. As it was written so shall it be. These are the tools of the trade and if you refuse to believe me then look no further than the improbable NCAA Tournament run of the Northern Iowa Panthers who in a mere 48 hours re-wrote the entire state of Iowa's cursed and calamitous March Madness history dating back to the University of Iowa's star player Ronnie Lester blowing out his knee in the opening minutes of the state's last Final 4 appearance way back in 1980 and up through Western Kentucky's god-forsaken heave against poor Drake back in 2008.

Look, people, you think this sorta stuff just happens? You think the universe has no sense of romance? You think the basketball gods are a figment of my legendary imagination? Stop it. Just stop it.

Northern Iowa had played in five NCAA Tournament games (and lost each one by five points) since their lone win in the Big Dance occurred on March 16, 1990 on an insanely long three pointer by Maurice Newby (whose name shall never be forgotten) when he didn't actually need a three pointer to topple Missouri by three points.

So tell me why exactly 20 years (and 2 days) later on March 18, 2010 Northern Iowa finally earned another victory in the Big Dance on an insanely long three pointer by Ali Farokhmanesh (whose name shall never be forgotten) when he didn't actually need a three pointer to topple UNLV by three points?

You really think things like that happen for no reason at all?

To this day the most spectacular Hawkeye State NCAA Tournament flameout remains the second seeded Big 12 Champion Iowa State Cyclones of 2001 falling in the first round to lowly Hampton (from somewhere in Virginia....or Nevada....or possibly North Dakota) 58-57. Why when little Robert Morris U. was trying to oust big bad Villanova this past Thursday afternoon the graphic CBS flashed up every year flashed up again: the last #15 seed to beat a #2 seed was (cue shot of the full population of Ames tossing back a shot of whiskey) Hampton over Iowa State in 2001.

People remember Hampton hitting the shot in the lane to go up by one point with under 10 seconds left and they remember Iowa State's Jamaal Tinsley racing end-to-end only to have his layup (of course) spin off the rim and people remember the Hampton coach getting lifted up in the air in the immediate post-game celebration, a shot that is now the staple of every single TV Tournament montage. What no one remembers is the play that set all of that up.

Hampton missed a shot and Iowa State, holding a 57-56 lead, rebounded with less than 35 seconds to play, meaning the shot clock was turned off and meaning the Cyclones could dribble to and fro, run clock, get fouled, try to end the game the old fashioned way. Instead, Iowa State's Tinsley, the Big 12 Player of the Year, found himself with a wide open jump shot from 5 feet away, a shot he probably made 96 times out of a 100 that season, and, despite the fact it was not the suitable strategy for such a situation, took the shot. And missed. And the rest, as they say, ended up being history. Afterwards when asked why he took that shot Tinsley simply replied: "I thought I'd make it." I always dug that answer. No excuses. No waxing poetically trying to cover it up. It seemed so....so....well, Iowan. Simple. Straight forward. Just the facts, ma'am. "I thought I'd make it. Why the hell else would I shoot it?"

So this past Saturday afternoon it came to pass that Northern Iowa was playing the top seeded and #1 ranked Kansas Jayhawks, the team whom Sports Illustrated scribe Luke Winn (whose writing, in interest of disclosure, I actually like very much) said "The first thing I did after printing out the bracket was put Kansas in the national champion’s box", the team of whom the Kansas City Star's Jason Whitlock, without question the biggest blowhard in an industry of big blowhards, wrote "You tell me how the Kansas Jayhawks don't win the National Championship" just prior to proclaiming them "the best college basketball team we’ve seen in the one-and-done era", the team one President Barack Obama (and this is also the guy who wants a college football playoff, remember) picked to win it all, in the second round.

Improbably, the forever gritty Panthers led nearly the whole way and then with less than 45 seconds to play, clinging to a precarious 63-62 lead, UNI navigated Kansas's fiery press by the slimmest of margins and young Farokhmanesh found himself once again standing wide open at the 3 point line with an eternity of 36 seconds staring back at him on the clock. Conventional strategy in such a situation would dictate for the player to pass up the shot, dribble away from the defenders, try to make a few passes, run clock, shoot freethrows, try to win the old fashioned way, especially considering not a single Panther was anywhere near the basket to provide rebounding support. Instead Farokhmanesh took the shot. And it was - as CBS's forever wonderfully hyperbolic play-by-play man Gus Johnson might scream - "nothing but nylon!"

I knew then UNI would win. Why? Because finally, nine years later, the missed-Tinsley-poor-strategy-jumper-dragon had been slayed. And after the game when the CBS guy asked Farokhmanesh why he took the shot this was Ali's response: "Might as well take it." Hell to the yeah. It was damn near Jimmy Chitwood-esque. "Might as well take it. I mean I was open, right? Why not? What, you're telling me Kansas All-American wonderboy Sherron Collins wouldn't have taken it? Oh. Well, he's not going to the Sweet Sixteen, is he?" (Sports Illustrated's aforementioned Winn wrote of the shot: "It was so wrong from a strategic standpoint, yet so right from an emotional one." I like that. A lot. Emotion trumping strategy. Gotta give it up.)

So you still really think things like that happen for NO REASON AT ALL??? Wake up and smell the karma.

Certain reasons, in fact, placed me back in my home state of Iowa this weekend and I watched the tail end of the biggest upset of the 2010 Big Dance in my old stomping grounds of Des Moines and there is not another place in the whole wide world I would have wanted to be than Iowa soil when the Panthers did in the supposedly invincible Jayhawks. I'm not a UNI fan (and that's why I don't want anyone to think this game means as much to me as it would to a real UNI fan - my God, they have to be over the moon, and good for them - I can only imagine Sharky's on Saturday night was awash in spilled celebratory Bud Light). I simply root for every team from the state of Iowa come March. Farokhmanesh's three was most decidedly and most importantly for himself and his team, and for the UNI fans and the community of Cedar Falls, but it was also for the entire state. It really, really was. It was for Drake fans weeping in the wake of that nauseating heave and it was for Hawkeye fans who had to endure piddly dink Northwestern State's heave from the corner and the second half meltdown against UNLV 20+ years ago and it was for Cyclone fans who not only still endure the Hampton humiliation but also endured UCLA's Cameron Dollar (a thousand curses upon thee!) dicing up their hearts like a raw onion in 1997 and it was for Cyclone Women's Basketball fans who will never forget the that-did-not-just-happen sight of Megan Taylor's last second, would-have-won-it shot against Penn State in the 2000 Sweet Sixteen literally going into the rim....and then coming back out. This was an exorcism for all the Iowans.

Oh, for crying out loud, you still don't believe me? Hey, genius, this is the furthest a men's team from the state of Iowa has advanced since the vaunted Iowa State Cyclones of 2000 reached the regional finals only to fall on the strength of an infamous and highly questionable double foul (don't even get me started) against frickin' Michigan State. Wait, what's that? Who is Northern Iowa's opponent this Friday night in the Sweet Sixteen? Uh, hang on, let's see here, oh, golly gee, how about this, it's....

Michigan State.

As it was written so shall it be.

1 comment:

Castor said...

That was a great game. Even though they busted my tournament brackets and took out who I thought was going to win it all!