Alllllllllllllll the way back in November of last year, a funny little team, with messed up uniforms and a long name, showed up to the Coors Events (and Conference) Center to have a game with the Buffs. They were awful. Just plain awful. CU led 43-22 at half, and cruised over the 2nd to grab a 88-72 victory. That team was the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
They played the role of the early-season fodder they were supposed to be perfectly. They took their loss, and left, without much fanfare. I remember particularly laughing at the fact that their uniforms looked like they were falling apart. I also remember thinking that, being a senior laden team from a small conference, regardless of the outcome that day, they probably had a better chance of making the NCAA Tournament then CU did.
(You can kind of see the uniform issues on #'s 23, 14, and 34. Seriously, who's their equipment guy? From CUBuffs.com)
And so, I was not surprised to watch the Golden Lions win last night in the (don't say play-in game) opening game of the NCAA Tournament. With impeccable looking uniforms, UAPB beat Winthrop to earn the right to get bitch-slapped by Duke. It's funny the way things work out. UAPB was an afterthought minutes after that November game. They were for a lot of other teams as well, as they toured the west; playing 14 road dates before having their first home game in the middle of January. It must of been hard to be a Golden Lion at that point. Long bus rides to far off arenas, only to be the chum in the early season shark tank for major conference opponents. In all this season, UAPB played only 9 games in Pine Bluff, compared to 25 games "out-and-about." It must have been hard just to go to practice every day. How did they attend classes? I've taken tests on bus rides before, and it sucks. If anyone deserves the chance to have their name in lights, and their score mentioned on SportsCenter, its those guys.
I usually take a dim view of the (let's face it) play-in game. The teams are usually terrible, from conferences I don't care about, and from places I've never been. But maybe that's the point that I've been skipping over. These guys should have their moment in the sun. Their chance to play on a neutral court versus one of the best teams in the country.
Of course, come Friday night, Duke will beat them with typical Coach K efficiency. Coach K will wrangle the refs, and wear his opponent down, like he always does. But at least UAPB will have earned the right to say that they belong, even if it's just for 48 hours; that the trips to Boulder, CO, El Paso, Texas, Stillwater, OK, and Ann Arbor, MI were all worth it. Maybe the play-in game is a good idea, if stories like UAPB's are what come out of it.