As someone pointed out on Twitter, the University of Kansas team had “their own leather theater seating” while the Aggies sat in folding chairs to watch the NCAA tournament selection telecast Sunday (March 12).
But, really, who needed chairs at all? Once the Aggies heard “UC Davis” at the watch party they attended, they jumped for joy knowing that they had made history as the first Aggie men’s team to have a berth in the biggest Division I basketball tournament of them all: the NCAA’s March Madness.
“I could not be more excited for this group of young men who have been a joy to coach, and have allowed (the coaching staff) to push and challenge them,” head coach Jim Les said after his team won the Big West Conference Tournament March 11 at the Honda Center in Anaheim.
The No. 2-seeded Aggies opened the conference tournament with a 66-55 win over Cal Poly, then took on Cal State Fullerton in the semifinals. The Aggie-Titan game went to overtime, which saw the teams knotted at 64 with 12 seconds remaining after Tre Coggins missed a 3-pointer that would have given Fullerton the lead.
Siler Schneider collected the rebound for the Aggies, brought the ball back the other way and tried a 3-pointer of his own. It missed the rim and landed in the hands of his teammate Chima Moneke, who jumped straight up and scored the winning basket as time expired!
“I knew when Siler shot it, there was time left on the clock. I saw Khalil (Ahmad of Fullerton) — he didn’t box out and was just watching the shot — and I snuck in. I knew that if there was a missed shot, I would get the offensive rebound. I tried to stay cool because I knew there was enough time to get it up and in,” Moneke said.
The tournament title came with an automatic berth in the NCAA’s “Big Dance.” But who, when and where would the Aggies play? The team learned the same time everyone else did, via the “Selection Sunday” TV show. They’ll go up against North Carolina Central University this Wednesday (March 15), in what the NCAA calls a “First Four” game.
The teams that emerge from the “First Four” games will move into the tournament’s traditional bracket of 64 teams (divided into four regions of 16, with teams seeded 1 through 16).
The Aggies and the NC Central Eagles are vying for a 16-seed position — and a first-round game against the Midwest Region’s No. 1 seed, the Kansas Jayhawks (the players with the leather theater seating), at 4:50 p.m. Friday (March 18), at the Bok Center, Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Les has met Kansas before in the NCAA tournament, in 2006, when he was coaching at Bradley. The Jayhawks would like to forget that game, because Les’ team came in as a No. 13 seed and stunned No. 4 seed Kansas, 77-73, in the opening round. Bradley followed up with a win over No. 5 seed Pittsburgh, 72-66, before falling in the Sweet 16 to No. 1 seed Memphis, 80-64.
Interim chancellor says, ‘Let’s Dance!’
Ralph J. Hexter emailed his congratulations to the Aggie team Sunday morning. “Some might only know us for our leading agricultural college in Northern California,” the interim chancellor wrote, “but the nation is learning we are that and leaders in so much more. That’s all because of you.”
Indeed, a nation that is captivated with March Madness is hearing “UC Davis” over and over in the days leading up to the tournament, and alumni and others are burning up social media. See The Download for a sampling.
“I could not be more proud of your achievements and contributions on and off the court,” Hexter told the team. “Your determination, persistence and teamwork truly embody Aggie Pride.
“You have put smiles on a lot of Aggie faces today! Let's Dance! Go Ags!”
Monday morning, the interim chancellor sent a message to students, sharing with them a video he’d been working on — his interview of Brynton Lamar of the basketball team, talking to him about his experience as a student-athlete at UC Davis, and what he plans to do after graduation and after basketball. See it below.