Farokhmanesh's long-distance dedication rewarded in UNI upset
Northern Iowa's game-winning play reflected the team's confidence and patience
Said the team's point guard, Kwadzo Ahelegbe, "We always play like we're up."
Senior guard Ali Farokhmanesh lives for shooting threes in crunch time
OKLAHOMA CITY -- From his seat on Northern Iowa's bench, 7-foot senior center Jordan Eglseder thought the shot was so far off the mark it had airball written all over it. "But then it hit the back of the rim and went in," he says. "I got a queasy stomach, I got goosebumps ... I wanted to run out on the court right away."
As it turned out, senior guard Ali Farokhmanesh 's three-pointer with eight seconds left in UNI's 69-66 first-round win over UNLV wasn't the last shot of the game -- UNLV's Tre'Von Willis would take, and miss, that one as time expired -- but it was the game-winner in a back-and-forth, fast-then-slow affair in which both teams had success trying to impose their defensive will. "We really wanted to handle UNLV's pressure defense," said junior point guard Kwadzo Ahelegbe. "And I think we handled it -- well enough."
That was especially true in the game's final 35 seconds. With the scored tied at 66 and no timeouts left for Northern Iowa, Ahelegbe brought the ball down the court and tried to milk the clock while looking for an opportunity to penetrate. Unlike most teams, the Panthers don't practice time-and-score situations, where they put, say, 40 seconds on the clock with the opponent up two and then work out a way to win. "We always practice like we're up," says Ahelegbe. "We always play like we're up."
As Ahelegbe serenely worked the clock, UNLV kept doubling him, cutting off his avenues to the paint. "They even had a 7-footer running at me, and that wasn't going to work," he says. Finally, he dumped the ball off to sophomore guard Jonny Moran. "While Kwadzo had the ball, I could see Ali was open," said Moran. "So, I took maybe one or two dribbles and threw it to him. "
Hanging out near the left sideline virtually unguarded, Farokhmanesh caught the ball and let fly a beautiful parabola from about 30 feet that found the rim and the net. "He made a great shot," says Moran. "From my angle, it looked like it was going in. He's such a great shooter and was having such a great night. I've seen him make so many open three-pointers in practice and games."
So has Eglseder, who often plays H-O-R-S-E or P-I-G with Farokhmanesh during shootarounds on road trips. ("I've never beaten him, but I have come close," says Eglseder, who has nevertheless made just 1 of 9 three-point attempts this year.) Asked if he would want anyone else to have the ball in his hands in the waning seconds, Eglseder said, "No, not at all. That guy is in the gym shooting shots more than any guy I've ever known."
Farokhmanesh, who nearly doubled his per-game average by scoring 17 points, including three threes, against UNLV, was an admirer of Steve Nash while growing up in Washington state and Iowa City. He had hit big threes before, he says. "But nothing like this. Hitting a shot like this in the NCAA tournament, that's what you dream of."
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