Quick now: What does UMBC stand for?
Or U Must Be Cinderella?
I hope you caught the Retrievers’ act late Friday night.
It wasn’t simply a No. 16 seed beating a No. 1 seed for the first time in the history of the NCAA tournament. It was also the way UMBC helped No. 16 seeds improve to 1-135.
It was a dominant performance.
Every shot the Retrievers took, it seemed, found the net as they shot 54.2 percent (26 of 48), including a dazzling 50 percent (12 of 24) from three-point range.
Meanwhile, the Cavaliers, who shot 41.2 percent (23 of 56), including a miserable 18.2 percent from three-point range (4 of 22), had no offensive answer.
The shooting figures were no accident. UMBC put itself in the right places to make shots—and get stops.
Credit outstanding play by the Retrievers. And credit a tremendous job of preparing them by coach Ryan Odom, whose father, Dave, had coached Ralph Sampson as a Virginia assistant before becoming head coach at Wake Forest, where he had a another dominant post player, Tim Duncan.
UMBC’s shocker over Virginia had nothing to do with big men. It was more about little big men.
The underdog can always play looser. The pressure is on the higher seed.
But this was a perfect storm. The key was to build those 14- and 16-point leads on Virginia in the middle of the second half. That was unfamiliar territory for the Cavaliers, who are known for lockdown defense, not offensive comebacks.
After all, Virginia coach Tony Bennett is the son of beloved former Wisconsin coach Dick Bennett.
I was standing in the tunnel at halftime of a 2000 Final Four semi-final between Dick Bennett’s Badgers and Michigan State when Tom Izzo came by and said, “How do you like the Super Bowl?’’
The Spartans led 19-17.
Tony Bennett’s Virginia Cavaliers were tied 21-21 with UMBC at halftime. That set the stage for the Retrievers’ dazzling second-half heroics.
I also covered the previous closest call for a No. 1 seed. On March 17, 1989, top seed Georgetown escaped 50-49 against No. 16 Princeton on a dubious blocked shot at the end of the game.
“That last play of the game, we’ll have to take that up with God, when we get there,” said Princeton’s Pete Carrill, who thought his shooter was fouled.
UMBC’s historic No. 16 breakthrough didn’t depend on a buzzer-beater. It was a thorough beatdown.
As painful as it will be for Bennett and his players this spring, this upset will long be remembered as a dramatic example of why March Madness is such a riveting and entertaining event.