Cal Poly's NCAA Tournament berth stirs excitement

nwilson@thetribunenews.comMarch 18, 2014 

Derek Kirby, Cal Poly Downtown employee and recent Cal Poly grad, says he's excited for Wednesday's game and plans to watch it at The Shack wearing one of these new NCAA shirts.


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Faithful alumni have waited for two decades for the Cal Poly men’s basketball team to make the NCAA Division I Tournament.

They couldn’t be more jazzed to see the local university’s name appear in the field of 68 teams for the first time in program history, joining in March Madness and the quest for a national championship.

Students such as industrial engineering major Victoria Carson also said that the berth gives the school pride.

“Everyone has been pretty excited about it,” Carson said. “People are happy to see Cal Poly make it.”

Students on campus this week are so thrilled that much of the studying across campus for final exams will be put on hold Wednesday for a couple of hours.

Cal Poly’s game versus Texas Southern University, played in Dayton, Ohio, begins at 3:40 p.m. Wednesday and will be televised on truTV.

Several local sports bars and restaurants will show the contest.

Cal Poly also will host an on-campus viewing party at Chumash Auditorium for students and staff.

“This will be a great study break,” said sophomore James Ralston, an electrical engineering major. “I went to Firestone’s for the final game of the Big West Tournament, and it was a packed house. There was so much energy. I will go back again to watch. It’s great to see them there.”

Cal Poly, which has a record of 13-19 overall, won three straight games in the Big West Conference to advance to the NCAA Tournament. Beginning with an upset of No. 2 seed UC Santa Barbara, it went on to beat No. 1 UC Irvine and then culminated the streak with a final victory against No. 5 Cal State Northridge.

The Mustangs were placed in the First Four  NCAA Tournament grouping. The winners of the First Four games will play in a 64-team field divided into four regions. 

The winner of today’s game will play No. 1 seed Wichita State in the Midwest Region on Friday.

“I think it’s awesome,” said Cal Poly junior Erin Warren of the team’s accomplishment. “Some of my friends went to the Honda Center in Anaheim for the Big West Tournament. I also feel like this is something that will draw more people to home games in the future.”

The Mustangs’ unlikely run to the nation’s largest and most intensely watched college basketball Tournament — one of the most exciting spectacles in American sports — was clinched with a 61-59 victory over Northridge on a game-winning 3-pointer by freshman guard Ridge Shipley.

After Northridge failed to score in the final seconds, fans rushed the court to bounce up and down and share in the jubilation with the team.

In San Luis Obispo, Cal Poly’s student body President Jason Colombini was watching the Cal Poly win over Northridge on television with about 40 friends.

“The emotion all of us felt when we won was incredible,” Colombini said. “I had people from back home and other schools congratulating me, and I didn’t even have anything to do with it. I can’t even imagine what the team was going through.”

The experience for alumnus Ron Burk, a Mustang Booster Club member, has been a whirlwind of travel fueled by excitement around the team’s success.

Burk attended the Big West Tournament in Anaheim, returning home Sunday afternoon to Santa Maria.

A couple of hours later, he was making arrangements to fly to Dayton. A group of about 30 dedicated supporters made the journey across the country from the Central Coast. Other alumni nationwide are making the trip as well.

“There were other years when we had a really good chance to win (the Big West Tournament), but things didn’t go our way,” Burk said. “It has been an amazing run. Something has clicked. Their whole intensity level is different. This is certainly the best basketball I’ve seen them play this year.”

Jay Johnson, another longtime fan, said that the national exposure is great for the whole school not just the athletic programs.

He gave credit to Mustangs coach Joe Callero for believing in the team.

“Coach Callero said all year that this is the team that’s going to go to the NCAA Tournament,” Johnson said. “And he turned out to be right.”

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