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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Monday, July 28, 2014

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In Sports

Ed McCants leads the Panthers in celebrating their advancement to the Sweet 16.

UWM Panthers claw their way to the Sweet 16


While many are on a spring break vacation in Cancun and other various hot spots, all the excitement is right here in Milwaukee.

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panthers have won two straight NCCA Tournament games, earning them a spot in the Sweet 16 against the No. 1 Illinois Fighting Illini.

I am a UWM student saving money and enjoying my spring break in Milwaukee, and I didn't think it could be so much fun. Little did I expect that I would be living the high life and drinking it as well.

For both games, I have been at a friend's place in town, screaming at the non-responsive television set every play, over-analyzing each second of the games by trying to offer coaching decisions I had no experience in giving. My friends and I communicated with the floor below us by stomping our feet, and they responded by hitting the ceiling with a broom. This took place when a good play occurred, only adding to the excitement and heart-racing fun.

Being a 12-seed doesn't sound tempting at first, but UWM definitely was excited to grab it. The first round battle was against Alabama, a team consistently in the top 25 all year, with solid scoring in the post position as well as the perimeter. UWM wasted no time in knocking down 12 three-pointers, with leading scorers Joah Tucker and Ed McCants dropping in over 20 points apiece. The blitz of black and gold stung the Crimson Tide, and UWM held on to the lead, winning 83-73.

The second game was intense. Contrary to the Alabama game, UWM's opponent in Boston College came roaring down the court to an 11-0 lead. This scared me more than anything. The last thing I wanted to hear was how UWM was a flash in the pan and couldn't play at that intensity level for more than a game. Well, they must have heard me screaming and hitting the television as they went on a huge run, grabbing the lead by a few points.

Boston College, winners of its first 20 games this season, was surprised, but didn't let up. The game went back and forth, more than grandma in her rocker, and with under a minute left, an uncommon hero appeared. Senior James Wright, a very poor free-throw shooter during the regular season like Shaquille O'Neal, goes 100 percent for the game, putting UWM up for good. They win the game, 83-75.

Now, UWM is the highest seed remaining in the tournament, definitely making a statement. Their non-stop, 40-minute attack stunned their opponents and put them at the top when the game clock hit zero.

Earning the chance to play the supposed best team in the country is a gigantic gift, which the Panthers earned. Lose or not, UWM and its students, alumni and fans will never be the same. People talk about how exciting this is, but they have no idea what is does for the city of Milwaukee and the university.

When the team went to practice Wednesday before the Thursday game against Alabama, they weren't let in because they didn't have their IDs. I think everyone knows the UWM Panthers faces pretty well now.

Forget the beach, I've got my Panthers.

UWM will play the No. 1 seed Illinois on Thursday, March 24 at 6:30 p.m. on CBS.

Josh Hertzog is a senior at UW-Milwaukee.

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