Northern Iowa produced the biggest surprise of the NCAA basketball tournament's first two rounds by beating Kansas, the team widely expected to win the competition, 69-67 on Saturday. Kansas's elimination came just hours after Saint Mary's, a team with five Australians in its squad, stunned the South second seeds Villanova 75-68.
Kentucky, the tournament favourite after Kansas's loss, had a much easier time. The top East team beat Wake Forest 90-60. Ninth-seeded Northern Iowa used tough defence and a key three-pointer by Ali Farokhmanesh to become the first team to defeat a top seed in the tournament's second round in six years. Farokhmanesh, the son of a former Iranian national team volleyball player, launched his game-deciding three-pointer with 35 seconds left and Northern Iowa holding a one-point lead.
"He was wide open," teammate Johnny Moran said. "I don't know if coach really wanted him to shoot when he was in that position, but if you know Ali, you know that shot is going up at the end of the game." It was the fourth three-pointer of the game for Farokhmanesh, who had a team-high 16 points. "That was a dagger, and it was a big-time play by a really good player," said Bill Self, the Kansas coach.
Although they were the underdog, Northern Iowa led for almost the entire game and Kansas utilised a full-court press in the closing minutes to pull within a point before Farokhmanesh made his shot. The victory over Villanova by Saint Mary's was almost as improbable as Northern Iowa's. The San Francisco area team, seeded 10th in the South, roared to their second successive upset behind Omar Samhan's 32 points. Saint Mary's had beaten the higher-seeded Richmond 80-71 on Thursday.
* With agencies