Bowie State Coach Luke D'Alessio thought his team would see arch rival Virginia Union four times this season. Those plans fell through when Bowie State was bounced out of the Central Interscholastic Athletic Association quarterfinals; the Bulldogs had already returned to Maryland by the time Virginia Union won the CIAA title.
But the teams, which both reached No. 1 in the national rankings this season, will meet for a third time tonight in the NCAA Division II South Atlantic Regional final, with a berth in the national quarterfinals on the line. Virginia Union, ranked sixth in the last national poll, will visit third-ranked Bowie State at 7 p.m. Bowie officials expect a sellout at the 4,000-seat A.C. Jordan Arena.
Bowie State junior forward Derick Payne, left, junior guard Kevin Bell and teammates will face visiting Virginia Union tonight for the third time this season.
(Karl Deblaker -- AP)
"Honestly, if I had my choice, this is what I'd want it to be: us playing Virginia Union," D'Alessio said. "It's one of the best rivalries now in the country."
Virginia Union (26-4), a private school in Richmond, has long been a Division II power, advancing to five final fours and winning two national championships in the past 25 years. Bowie State (26-4), on the other hand, has made just three NCAA tournament appearances, all in the last three years.
Before D'Alessio came to Bowie in 1999, the Bulldogs had lost 15 straight to Virginia Union and had a 1-36 record against the Panthers. D'Alessio, though, has amassed a 9-4 mark against Virginia Union and its highly regarded coach, Dave Robbins, who has a career record of 635-175 and is attempting to claim his seventh NCAA regional title.
The teams already have played seven times in the past three seasons; three of the games have gone to overtime, including Bowie's remarkable 95-94 home win on Feb. 8. In that game, the Bulldogs lost a 22-point second-half lead, regrouped in overtime and finally won on Isaiah Johnson's free throw with 1.5 seconds left.
Virginia Union is led by guards Darius Hargrove -- who scored 43 points in the Panthers' first two NCAA tournament games -- and Luqman Jaaber, the CIAA defensive player of the year who leads Division II in free throw shooting.