It was barely noon on Thursday West Coast time, on the first day of the NCAA basketball tournament that will hold our attention for the rest of March and into early April, when we received the final reminder of why they’re calling this March Madness. .
After all, what’s so psychotic and quirky about a bunch of college basketball games? Sure, there will be some exciting games, some surprises, some crazy stuff amid all the hoops and whoops. But madness?
But there she was, Virginia playing Furman. Virginia was ranked nationally all year, even going as high as No. 2. Furman had not been to an NCAA tournament since Jimmy Carter was president. Virginia was seeded No. 4 in their 16-team regional, Furman No. 13. Virginia plays in the prestigious and time-tested ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference), Furman in the little-known and generally ignored Southern Conference.
So when Virginia got the ball in bounds with about 10 seconds remaining and simply had to run out of time to protect their two-point victory, this would be a David almost killing Goliath story. Nothing else. Pats on the back to Team Furman. Deep breath for the Virginia team, who could quickly get to their next opponent’s scouting report.
That was made even safer when the ball went into the bounds of Kihei Clark, Virginia’s veteran point guard. Clark, a 5-foot-10 veteran from Woodland Hills, had been there and done this many times before. Due to the additional year of eligibility allowed by the COVID-19 sports elimination year, Clark was in the fifth year. He held ACC records for minutes played, games played and assists. When Virginia won the NCAA title in 2019, Clark saved the day in a regional final against Purdue by running to track down a missed free throw that bounced off the backcourt, ran to the basket, and found her teammate. Mamadi Diakite 10 feet from the basket. His pass came just in time, Diakite’s shot went by with a split second to play to tie the game, Virginia won the game in overtime and went on to claim the NCAA title. Throughout the Charlottesville campus, it is known as “The Work.”
This time, Clark didn’t need to make any heroic moves. He was surrounded by three frantic Furman players who probably would have fouled him. He also had a time out. With those options, he chose a third. He threw the ball high and as far as he could, apparently assuming the ball would stay in the air long enough for time to run out.
he didn’t. His shot was intercepted by a Furman player, who had just time to take a few steps back and pass to a teammate at the three-point line. The shot went up, the ball passed, and Furman won. It was a monumental mistake, made by the player least expected to make one.
it was madness. pure madness. With probably more to come.