The NCAA tournament is full of surprises each year, and it hasn’t been different this time around. No. 14 Abilene Christian stunned the college basketball world saturday night when they defeated No. 3 Texas – 53-52 saturday night. Games like this are bracket busters, as Texas was a serious Final Four contender in the tournament. It’s a big win for the Abilene Christian Wildcats, the program just joined Division I in 2013.
Joe Pleasant, Abilene Christian forward, made two clutch free throws with under two seconds to seal the big win. Pleasant is only a 59% free throw shooter, but Wildcats coach Joe Golding had “no doubt” they were going in.
“At that point it was done.” Golding said. “I knew he was making them. He works harder than anybody in our program. He lives in the gym.”
It was truly a hard fought game between Texas and Abilene Christian. The Wildcats only went 3-18 shooting from the perimeter throughout the game. The Wildcats won the game with their stifling defense and their “get a basket by any means” approach on offense. They outrebounded the Longhorns and held them to a season high 22 turnovers.
Joe Pleasant led the charge for the Wildcats, scoring 11 to go along with eight boards, in addition to his clutch free throws. Coryon Mason, guard for the Wildcats, also added 11 and scored a few key buckets to keep his team in the game. Damien Daniels for the Wildcats scored an and-one on a drive to the bucket late in the game, giving them the lead. It was an all around effort for the Wildcats
The Texas Longhorns controlled most of the game, but the Wildcats were a headache that didn’t want to go away. Andrew Jones for the Longhorns scored 13 and hit a 3-pointer with 14 seconds left, but it ultimately wasn’t enough. Before that shot, the Longhorns went almost four minutes without scoring. The Longhorns were noticeably bothered by the Wildcats’ swarming defense. This allowed the Wildcats to climb back and capture the win, sending the Longhorns packing with another first round exit.
For the Longhorns, it’s a disappointing result to a game they expected to win. For Abilene Christian, it’s their biggest win in program history. However, it’s a quick turnaround, as they draw UCLA next on Monday. I asked Wildcats coach Joe Golding about his approach to keep the players focused after a big win:
“There’s two ways you can go. You can stay up all night and read your phone and everything that’s good that everybody’s talking about you or you can put that phone away and you can get some rest, you can hydrate, and get off your feet and have a
great workout tomorrow and get ready to beat our next opponent. Those are the two choices we have and we’ll talk to our guys about it when we get back.”
Abilene Christian is now playing with house money. Years ago they were the worst team in Division one, and now they’re advancing to the second round after defeating the flagship state in their state. The UCLA Bruins will have their hands full, the Abilene Christian Wildcats are a team who’s going to fight until the clock hits zero.