NCAA Day Trois: Ali Soars, Soaring Empire Doesn’t

The Rick’s Not So Soaring Empire. Louisville fans spent Saturday shaking off the grogginess from lack of sleep and the Cardinals’ ignominious late late night meltdown to California.

During the afternoon, coach Rick Pitino was spotted at Gulfstream Park, a few hundred miles from the site of U of L’s loss, where his 3 year old Soaring Empire limped home 8th in an 11 horse Florida Derby Field.

Meanwhile back home, committed preferred walk on Elisha Justice led little Shelby Valley to the state high school title.

Given the praise that Pitino has heaped upon this kid known as “The Bullet,” I’m wondering if The Rick hopped a plane back to Lexington after the horse race to watch Justice to play in the championship game? There are no reports that he did.

I certainly do not begrudge the Louisville coach a day off. By all accounts he’s a workaholic, and, despite the underachievement of this year’s squad, there’s nothing whatsoever to indicate that Pitino was asleep at the wheel. A day with pals at the track . . . good for him. He deserves some time off for R & R.

But my guess is that back in the day, when he was younger and hungrier, he would have been in Rupp Arena to watch Justice, who is sure to get some looks now from good basketball schools willing to pay his way.

I’ve never seen the kid play. I’m told he’s a baller. He’s obviously a winner. I’ve always loved recruiting kids who win state championships. If a prepster is a supertalent and wins, all the better. But I’d take a pretty good player who wins over a superduperprep whose team goes nowhere.

All of which is to advise the coach of my favorite team — though I know I don’t have his ear — give Elisha Justice a scholly. Today.

Please note that I avoided referring to U of L as a Not So Soaring Empire. But I sure was tempted.

Ali, Ali, Ali. If Elisha Justice is the King For A Day of the Commonwealth, Ali Farokhmanesh is King For A Day of the NC2A.

How ’bout them Northern Iowa Panthers!?!? Kudos to coach Ben Jacobson and his steely crew. They had top seeded Kansas at bay the whole game. NI gave no quarter against the taller, faster, stronger, more talented Jayhawks. And when it got tight at the end, they held steady.

None more so that Farokhmanesh. (And it’s a sign of his sudden but prevailing popularity that I can write his name without having to check the spelling.) Bill Raftery would say, “The kid has onions.” I say he has balls of steel.

With thirty clicks on the clock he’s standing behind the arc with the ball after the Panthers broke Kansas’s press. There are two Jayhawks under the hoop. There are no other Panthers available for a rebound.

No problem. Ali launches. Ali swishes. Ball game. Things were just the same as they ever was. He did the same thing, more of less, two days earlier in the opening round, securint the W against UNLV.

Who knew Persians could ball?

Are the Wildcats Unbeatable? From the same fellow who advised Friday that Kentucky couldn’t lose if they hit 15 threes a game, here comes another Truth. If UK gets 20 from any player not named Wall, Cousins, Patterson or Bledsoe, they are unbeatable.

Last night it was the usually timid Darius Miller. Next weekend it could be Liggins or Dodson or Orton.

Until this weekend I have been of the opinion that UK’s youth and impertinence might kick them in the ass this March. No longer. They are so much more talented than any team still dancing that those characteristics are mostly nullified. It doesn’t mean they can’t lose. Obviously they can. (Witness: Northern Iowa 69, Kansas 67.) But if they play at anywhere near their potential from here on out, the Big Blue Nation will be apoplectic with joy when the Last Dance is over.

Beware the PAC 10. Washington manhandled Steve Alford’s New Mexico Lobos. Just hours after California manhandled Louisville’s Cardinals.

Never have so many been so wrong about the representatives of a conference.

Okay, the adulation heaped upon the Big LEast has also been misapplied. But you know what I’m saying.

I don’t know how good or bad the rest of the Left Coast league has been, but UDub and Cal are pretty fair if not great basketball teams. Mike Montgomery and Lorenzo Romar can coach. Pondexter and Randle can play.

Watch Out for the Hinkles. Murray State was 9/14 from behind the arc. The Racers battered Butler by 17 on the boards. The Bears’ Howard and Hayward were 5/18 from the field. But the Hinkles slipped through to the Sweet 16. Beware the Hinkles.

Names to Remember. Omar Samhan. The behemoth St. Mary’s Gael went for 32/7 in the W over Villanova.

Jacob Pullen went for 32 in the W over BYU. Take that Jimmer Fredette, a name you formerly needed to remember, but can now forget.

Eight more tilts today, kids. Get that popcorn poppin’.

– Seedy K

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