Like you, I didn't win $370 million last night. But I did get to witness something that happens about as rarely as winning a piece of the lottery: a local college basketball team winning a really important game. While the Dallas Mavericks were ho-humming their way to a Sweet 16th consecutive win, the University of North Texas made national headlines with its third straight win, an 83-75 victory over Arkansas State, which gives the Mean Green the Sun Belt Conference Tournament championship and a berth in next week's March Madness.
And, yes, there is a connection: The Mavs, you may remember, held their week-long training camp at the Super Pit in Denton. During that time, UNT coach Johnny Jones watched some of Avery Johnson's practices and adopted Dallas' mantra of "Finish."
While the Mavs have already clinched a playoff berth and are on pace to finish off a remarkable 70-win regular season, the Mean Green put the finishing touches on a surprising tournament run that has it in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since Duran Duran was chic. We shouldn't be all that shocked.
UNT set a school-record with 23 wins, sports a collection of athletes that would make most elite programs salivate, and seven of its 10 losses were by four points or less. (But, really now, can we take seriously a team that lost at home to UTA?) In last night's title game UNT won despite playing without leading scorer Kendrick Davis (flu) and clanking 13 of 30 free throws. Guard Calvin Watson, not to be confused with this guy, hit six of seven 3-pointers and was named tournament MVP. Even sweeter, the game was called on ESPN2 by Dave Barnett, former Mavs broadcaster and UNT Class of '79 alum.
The Eagles will likely be a 14th seed in March Madness. Though they'll get some pub for their Cinderella status and for playing a 26-year-old who's served three tours of duty in Iraq , they'll probably lose their first-round game because of sloppy ball-handling and horrible free-throwing shooting (65 percent). Nonetheless, quite a year for UNT. First, they land this guy. Now, CBS will finally tell the world just exactly what a "Mean Green" is. Of course, us locals know it came from NFL Hall of Famer Joe Greene. Or perhaps two drunk football players named Sleepy and Hot Rod? --Richie Whitt
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