DENVER - Most UFC fights go three rounds, but in NCAA Division II men's basketball, sometimes three aren't enough.
It wasn't for No. 1 Metropolitan State and Colorado-Colorado Springs. And apparently it isn't for Tarleton State and Midwestern State, either.
Those of us from Texas who traveled to Denver for the South Central Region Men's Basketball Championship at Auraria Event Center learned something about Metro and Colorado Springs Saturday. We learned they like each other about as much as, well, Tarleton and Midwestern.
Back and forth the rivals went, Metro gaining a little breathing room, Colorado Springs roaring right back. Roar is appropriate, you see, because they are the Mountain Lions after all, and they finally gained a second half lead of 62-61.
Metro eventually won 76-72, with regional player of the year Brandon Jefferson - he is from Flower Mound and graduated from Lewisville, by the way - scoring 37 points and hitting two free throws with 3.3 seconds left to make it a two-possession game. He was 15-15 at the foul stripe.
Now it's Tarleton and Midwestern meeting for the fourth time, and its happening that way for the third time in the last five years. The crowd size won't be the same as we're about 800 miles from Stephenville and about 650 from Wichita Falls. But the teams love beating each other the same, and they hate losing to each other with a passion. About as much passion as could be seen on the faces of the Colorado Springs players when they fell just short Saturday night.
Tarleton put together easily the most impressive performance of day one at the regional. Of course they also played the weakest opponent there. That's no disrespect to Texas A&M-International, but even the Dustdevils said after the game that the Heartland Conference just doesn't have athletes like Tarleton's.
Guess what - the Heartland doesn't have athletes like Midwestern, either.
Midwestern didn't play particularly well but did advance past Arkansas-Fort Smith, 72-66, Saturday. I assure you, the Mustangs will get more 'up' for Tarleton today. They always do.
The Texans have lost the previous two 'round four' meetings with Midwestern, falling in the second round of the regional in 2010 and the first round in 2011.
Now, after meeting twice in the regular season and again in the LSC Championship, comes round four yet again. This after a total of six points separated the teams over 125 minutes of head-to-head play this season (remember there was an overtime in there).
It's one of the best - perhaps the singular best - basketball rivalries anywhere in the Lone Star state, and today, it takes center stage at 5 p.m., not in Texas, but here in Denver. The majority of the crowd will show up later for what could be another heated rivalry game. That's assuming that Colorado School of Mines took care of business against St. Mary's in the late game Saturday night for the right to face Metro tonight.
I hope they did. I hope it's round four all the way around. The emotions will be high, the tension thick enough to be cut with a knife.
And any way it ends, two great teams will be left standing to play in the regional final Tuesday. Two other great teams will be flying home, another season behind them. Either way, this regional will certainly send a battle-tested team on to Evansville, Ind. for the Elite Eight.
It's Tarleton and Midwestern for the fourth time, and another big game to follow for Metro, the top-ranked team in the region and nation. It will be a great night of basketball.
Great enough to go even a round longer than the world's ultimate fighters.