Who let the dogs out? These UMBC Retrievers are definitely golden!

The University of Maryland-Baltimore County (UMBC) is a commuter school located just a bone’s throw from Baltimore-Washington Airport.  With an enrollment of just over 13,000 students, the university’s athletics programs and budget are microscopic compared to their big brother, the University of Maryland.

While the U of M Terps play in an 18,000 seat arena in the big budget big league called the BIG 10, the UMBC Retrievers’ basketball team plays in a 4,000 seat multi-purpose student recreation center building while toiling in the America East Conference.  That is the same conference which features teams like Albany, Hartford, and Stony Brook.  Oh, yeah – THAT conference!

But the UMBC Retrievers made a statement on Friday night which will forever link the school’s basketball program to one brightly shining moment in NCAA basketball history.

In the first upset of a #1 seeded team by a #16 seed in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament history, the UMBC Retrievers ran wild in the second half and dog-piled the University of Virginia by a lopsided score of 74-54.  After 135 straight wins by a #1 seed in the tournament’s first round over the #16 seed, UMBC’s stunning win was anything but a fluke.

The first half of the game was downright boring and set another NCAA record.  With the game tied at halftime at 21-21, the first half total of 42 points was the lowest number of points ever scored in an NCAA tournament game.

For the University of Virginia, the low scoring first half was perhaps slightly perplexing but was right up their wheelhouse.  UVa’s Cavaliers (the overall #1 seed in the tournament’s field of 64 teams) was also America’s #1 stingiest defensive squad by allowing a measly 53.4 points per game this season.

You can just hear the halftime talks in each locker room.

For Virginia, coach Tony “I lost my heart in Charlotte, North Carolina” Bennett likely told his troops in the locker room that the pace of the game was in their favor.  In the second half, just keep playing tough defense, hit a few more shots along the way, and let’s move on to round 2.

At halftime in the UMBC locker room, Coach Ryan Odom had a different speech ready.  After slow-dancing with UVa in the first half, the Retrievers’ opponent would have no reason to believe that their dance partner in the second half would morph into basketball’s equivalent of James Brown!

It was classic Rocky II as Balboa challenged the champ, Apollo Creed.  Just when you thought Rocky couldn’t absorb another punch, his trainer, ol’ Mick, finally gave the challenger the OK to unleash his famous left hand in the final frame to salvage the match.

As the second half tipped-off, the UMBC Retrievers immediately blitzed Virginia.  This pack of dogs came out running, gunning, and dropping three point shots in a wild flurry.  While Virginia kept trying to dictate the slow waltz pace of the first half, the Retrievers never took their paws off the accelerator and dropped an incredible 53 second half points on the Cavs en route to this historic 20-point victory.

Just like Apollo Creed in the 15th round of Rocky II, Virginia, which had not yielded 53 points in a half since 2013, never saw it coming.  Down he goes!

It was terrific fun watching UMBC’s well-deserved victory.  Though these Retrievers lifted their leg on millions of NCAA March Madness brackets (mine included) by knocking out the overall #1 seed, there was no doubt that UMBC earned every minute of their post-game celebration in Charlotte Friday night.

The UMBC Athletics Department website features a picture of the school’s canine mascot named “GRIT”.  This school claims that GRIT is also an acronym for “Growth, Respect, Integrity, and Teamwork”.

After Friday night’s win for the ages, “GRIT” now means one more thing to NCAA college basketball fans.

That dog’ll hunt! 

Mayweather, McGregor, and lessons of Apollo Creed

Timing is everything.  Last week, I watched a DVD of the movie, “Creed”.  In the first “Rocky” movie, Apollo Creed was the undisputed world champion boxer who agreed to give a Philadelphia local boxing “chump” named Rocky Balboa a shot at the title.  After the original movie’s success, Rocky and Apollo Creed squared off again and, ultimately, the two combatants became close friends.

Then came Rocky 4.  Apollo Creed stepped into the ring with the Russian genetic freak named Ivan Drago and, sadly, died after being knocked-out in the ring.

The 2016 movie “Creed” featured the illegitimate son of Apollo Creed wanting to pursue his inner boxer.  Against the wishes of his Mom and others, he traveled to Philly to befriend the aging Rocky Balboa to become his trainer.  Right on cue, representatives of an aging legendary boxing champion challenge the relatively-untested young Creed to a huge payday championship fight.  Thankfully, good ol’ Rocky guides Creed to a competitive, though uneven, ring performance.

Fast forward to 2017.  An aging and undefeated boxer (Floyd Mayweather) has agreed to a gigantic payday boxing match against a mixed martial arts (MMA) challenger named Conor McGregor.  It will be a long-awaited match-up of great athletes from their respective sports.  Called “obsessively competitive”, Conor McGregor, age 28, is taking a big chance in stepping into the squared circle against a wily boxing legend in Mayweather, age 40. The marquis event will occur on August 26.

Like so many things in life, it’s all about the money.  Word has it that Mayweather is guaranteed at least $100 million and could earn double that amount, depending on the pay-per-view audience.  For his part, McGregor is expected to earn at least $75 million for this event.

Last weekend, a sad but timely twist occurred in Canada.  A 34-year old former mixed martial arts fighter-turned-boxer named Tim Hague stepped into the ring with Adam Braidwood, a former Canadian Football League defensive end-turned professional boxer.  Hague was knocked unconscious in the match and, two days later on Father’s Day, died due to the knockout.  Hague was the father of a nine-year old son, Brady.

You probably haven’t read much about this story.  The dark world of professional boxing and MMA would likely prefer that the buying public not dwell on this tragedy with so much (money) at stake in just two months.  Mayweather, McGregor, their agents, promoters, and legions of hangers-on are focused on making this once-in-a-lifetime payday occur on August 26.

More power to them.  I haven’t paid to watch a boxing or MMA event and wasn’t planning to start with this match-up anyway.

But the ironic timing of seeing a movie about the risks that Apollo Creed’s inexperienced boxing son takes by stepping into the ring with a veteran fighter in conjunction with the real-life death of a former MMA fighter at the hands of an experienced boxer last weekend in Canada sent a chilling reminder about just how deadly violent this sport can be.