Northern Iowa shocks top-seeded Kansas, secures first Sweet 16 appearance
OKLAHOMA CITY -- Leading by one against the colossus of the bracket, Ali Farokhmanesh stood at the 3-point line, no one around. The prudent play? Pull it out, burn some clock.
Not a chance.
Taking his shot at history, Farokhmanesh let fly from the wing.
The biggest upset in a tournament full of them was done. Northern Iowa had taken down mighty Kansas.
Playing with poise down the stretch and getting another big 3-pointer from Farokhmanesh, Northern Iowa pulled off one of the biggest NCAA upsets in years by knocking No. 1 overall seed Kansas from the bracket with a program-defining 69-67 win on Saturday.
"If anybody's going to shoot that shot, I want it to be Ali," Northern Iowa's Jake Koch said.
This year's NCAA tournament has been defined by its upsets. Eight double-digit seeds moved through the bracket in the first round. No. 10 Saint Mary's beat Villanova on Saturday and No. 11 Washington shoved aside New Mexico.
This was the biggest shocker of all.
Winning the tempo tug-of-war, ninth-seeded Northern Iowa (30-4) grounded the high-flying Jayhawks with in-their-jersey defense, then withstood a furious rally to become the first team to beat a No. 1 seed in the second round since UAB and Alabama did it to Kentucky and Stanford in 2004.
Farokhmanesh, Northern Iowa's first-round hero, had the biggest play of all.
With Kansas charging and its fans roaring, the fearless son of an Iranian Olympic volleyball player caught the ball on the wing after the Panthers had broken Kansas' press. The shot clock still in the 30s, he hesitated for just an instant, then cast his bracket-busting shot with 34 seconds left on the game clock.
Trailing 66-62, Kansas had one last chance, but Tyrel Reed was called for an offensive foul and Farokhmanesh sealed it with two free throws with 5 seconds left, sending the Panthers to the round of 16 for the first time.
Next up is the Michigan State-Maryland winner in St. Louis -- and another chance at history.
"This team has done such a great job of turning the page to what's next, and this would be the biggest challenge of the year," Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson said. "A lot of positive things have happened because of the way these guys played.
Kansas (33-3) fell behind early and came up just short on one of its anticipated runs, ending a season that started with national-title aspirations on another disappointing NCAA loss to a mid-major.
The Jayhawks trailed by as many as 12 points and used defense to pull within one with 44 seconds left. But they let Farokhmanesh sneak behind them for the deciding 3 to go down for the mid-major count like they did to Bradley in 2006 and Bucknell the year before, also in Oklahoma City.
Cole Aldrich had 13 points and 10 rebounds, Marcus Morris added 16 points and Sherron Collins ended his stellar KU career with 10 points on 4-of-15 shooting.
"Obviously, everybody is disappointed on our team," Aldrich said. "To work so hard and to go through so much adversity ... it's disappointing that we couldn't have let Sherron go out in a better way."
The post-game celebration told the story.
Farokhmanesh, who finished with 16 points, jumped into a huddle of teammates, and Koch embraced older brother Adam to a chant of "U-N-I!" At the other end, Jayhawks Morris and redshirt senior Mario Little crumbled to the floor, tears streaming down their faces when they finally rose.
Yes, this was monumental.
"We never doubted we could play with them at all," senior Adam Koch said.
Kansas sneaked by Lehigh in the first round, using a spirit-crushing run to turn a scare into a 16-point win.
Northern Iowa had a fight all the way through its three-point win over UNLV in the opener, breaking a 20-year NCAA winless drought on Farokhmanesh's 25-footer with 4.9 seconds left.
This game was like opposite poles of two magnets; One of the nation's highest-scoring teams against Northern Iowa's stuck-in-the-mud mentality.
The Panthers faced the tougher task.
They had never played a No. 1-ranked team and no one from their conference had beaten one since 1962. UNI also seemed to be overmatched against KU's lineup of pros-in-waiting. When asked if any of their players could start for Kansas, Farokhmanesh and Adam Koch gave an uncomfortable laugh.
The thing about the Panthers is they know defensive positioning as well as any team in the country, moving in a symphonic dance of denial. Northern Iowa has become the most consistent team in its state, too, reaching the NCAA tournament five of the past seven years, good enough that Kansas coach Bill Self said there's no way Cinderella's shoe fits anymore.
He was right.
UNI went right at the Jayhawks, opening with a 10-2 run that had Self burning an early timeout against a mid-major for the second straight game.
The Panthers kept attacking, leading all but 56 seconds of the first half, by as much as eight. Farokhmanesh was at his quick-shooting best, hitting all four of his shots -- three 3s -- for 11 points to put UNI in the upset position, up 36-28 at halftime.
"There were some things that happened during the game that I felt like wasn't poor play by us, more so Northern Iowa making plays," Kansas coach Bill Self said.
The Panthers kept it up.
Northern Iowa kept forcing Kansas into mistakes, didn't stop making shots and built the lead to 47-35 with 12 1/2 minutes left.
That's when Kansas started inching back.
Turning up their defensive pressure, the Jayhawks clipped the lead down to 56-53 with just 4 1/2 minutes left as their fans made the Ford Center feel like Allen Fieldhouse.
The Panthers didn't blink, answering every challenge for the monster upset.
"We knew they were going to turn up the pressure," Adam Koch said. "In this kind of environment, where this could be your last game, you're going to come at it with everything."
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