Northwestern faces blue blood UCLA in the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament: ‘Just trying to make history’
Gradey Dick set the Kansas freshman record for 3-point field goals, recorded the first double-double of his career in the Jayhawks’ opener in the NCAA Tournament and is on track to be an NBA lottery pick in June.
His mom, a player of her own accomplishment, is proud of him, of course.
But Carmen Dick concedes nothing to him as a basketball player. That’s not how their uber-competitive family operates.
Her son played the starring role in a first-round win over Howard on Thursday and next he’ll lead the top-seeded and defending champion Jayhawks (28-7) into a Saturday game against No. 8 Arkansas (21-13).
No. 2 UCLA (30-5) plays No. 7 Northwestern (22-11) in Sacramento, Calif, in the other West game.
Kansas’ opening tournament games are being played at Wells Fargo Arena, which is across the street from Veterans Auditorium. That’s where Carmen Dick — then Carmen Jaspers — built her legacy as one of Iowa’s greatest high school players before she became a 1,000-point scorer at Iowa State.
Since the Jayhawks arrived in Des Moines, locals have regaled Gradey Dick with memories of his mom dominating the competition in the old six-girl game Iowa high schools played until 30 years ago.
“Yeah, he knows what I did. He’s well aware,” Carmen Dick said Friday. “We have competitions, and he’s got me on a few and I’ve got him on a few.”
Gradey is the better 3-point shooter, but Carmen notes there were no 3s in her day. For her part, she played in three straight state tournaments for Ackley-Geneva High at Veterans Auditorium (1983-85), averaged 40 points per game as a senior and still ranks 10th all-time with her 77.6% shooting in 1984.
As a collegian, she was Iowa State’s female athlete of the year in 1989 and still holds the school single-game free-throw record by going 15 for 15 against Kansas in 1988.
“I haven’t gotten near to that, so she holds that over me,” said Gradey, who had 19 points, 11 rebounds, five assists and three steals in his first NCAA Tournament game.
Gradey said he admires his mom’s accomplishments. Because she played under the basket in high school and college, she’s even taught him a few inside moves.
“You never know when he might need to use those,” she said.
Carmen Dick is a personal trainer in Wichita, Kansas, where she and her husband, Bart, and raised Gradey as the youngest of four children. She said age has taken some of the luster off her game, but she doesn’t back down from a challenge on the court.
“We all played a lot of games in the backyard,” she said, laughing, “and there was no mercy. No mercy.”
Gradey said she still has game.
“Nowadays it’s more H-O-R-S-E,” he said. “Her mid-range game, she does not miss. Never.”
Kansas acting coach Norm Roberts said, “Gradey, he knows his mom is the best player in the house. We know all that. When you are coaching Gradey and talking to him about different things, his mom knows what’s going on.”
Another No. 1 for Arkansas
This marks the third straight year Arkansas will play a No. 1 seed. The Razorbacks knocked off Gonzaga 74-68 in San Francisco in the Sweet 16 last year and lost to Baylor 81-72 in the Elite Eight in Indianapolis in 2021.
“We talked about the mentality that you need to have going into this particular game,” coach Eric Musselman said. “Not good luck to play three number ones in three years. I don’t know if that’s ever happened before. But if it has happened before, it certainly hasn’t happened with many programs.”
The Razorbacks were seeded Nos. 4 and 3 the past two years and are a No. 8 this time. Arkansas is a 3½-point underdog to Kansas, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, after being a 2-point favorite against Illinois.
“I don’t think many people believed in us yesterday going into that game,” Musselman said. “Yeah, I think we need to play with a free mind. We need to not feel pressure. Our guys are smart. They’re on Twitter. They’re on Instagram. They know. They know what we’re playing against.”
UCLA’s NCAA Tournament accolades are legendary with 11 national titles and 19 appearances in the Final Four.
The Bruins’ second-round opponent has just a bit less history on this stage. Northwestern is making only its second appearance. The Wildcats have never made it as far as the Sweet 16, losing in the second round in 2017 in their only other tournament trip.
“As a program, it would be huge,” Northwestern forward Robbie Beran said. “I knew we had something special. Really just trying to make history. … It will be a huge step for the program. But we’re just trying to focus on the game. We’re not really trying to look at how it affects Northwestern basketball legacy.”
UCLA coach Mick Cronin is focused less on that discrepancy in experience and more on an opponent with a tough defense that has endured a difficult Big Ten schedule.
“Experience always helps,” he said. “If you can have talent and experience, you got a better chance. But I’ll take talent.”
VFAB’s Josh Dubow contributed from Sacramento, Calif.