West Lafayette Regional: Illinois rallies, UNLV wins

Nick Hardy Illinois Illinois Athletics

West Lafayette Regional: Illinois rallies, UNLV wins

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West Lafayette Regional: Illinois rallies, UNLV wins

TOP TEAM: UNLV (8-over 872)

TOP INDIVIDUAL: Nick Hardy, Illinois, and, Andrej Bevins, New Mexico (3-under 213)

ALSO ADVANCED: Auburn (875), Illinois (787), New Mexico (880), Purdue (882)

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FIGHTING ILLINI: The final day of regional play gets a lot of attention. That focus is not aimed at the top of the standings, rather the cutline. And entering the final round and late into the day, Illinois found its name on the wrong side of the red line. A spot Illini golf is not accustomed to. Head coach Mike Small had guided his team to eight consecutive NCAA finals and it was going to take a team effort if it was going to be nine.

With conditions the most difficult the 13-team field had seen all week Illinois would post a 6-over 294, the best final round team score. However, it was what transpired from the end of the second round to the start of the final round that may have been the difference.

Hardy and his teammates struggled in round two posting an 8-over 296 to slip into sixth place. The top five teams advance to the NCAA championship later this month at Rich Harvest Farms in Sugar Grove, Ill. Illinois stayed on property for three hours after they finished round two practicing. It paid off.

Hardy, who tied New Mexico’s Andrej Bevins for medalist honors, recorded a 2-under 70 in the final round to help his team rally late and eventually finish in third place and earn the praise of his coach.

“It was an uphill battle all week,” Illinois coach Mike Small said. “We got carless and selfish and did not play very well. Then today, because of Nick Hardy’s leadership after the round yesterday and the way he conducted himself and the words he spoke I give him a lot of credit. He was not going to go down.”

Hardy, a junior, did not want to be part of an Illinois team not to advance to the finals for the first time since 2008.

“I sent the guys a text telling them Illini golf always finds a way no matter what. When the conditions are tough and our backs are against the wall we find a way, it’s been like that for the last decade and we are not going to be that team that stops doing that,” Nick Hardy

Small has now coached a team to 13 NCAA championship appearances with only one miss in regional play. That came in 2004 here at the Kampen Course.

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UNLV WINS: A trip to West Lafayette over Easter week in mid-April may have been the key for UNLV’s success this week in NCAA regional play. The Rebels would finish fourth in that event, but the experience was much more valuable.

“It really helped because we played it in difficult weather and had the high winds,” UNLV coach Dwaine Knight said. “There is more rough now, but it helped seeing the course in those conditions.”

Conditions saw winds gusting close to 30 miles per hour on Wednesday afternoon. UNLV, the No. 3 seed, would turn in a 54-hole score of 8-over 872 to win the West Lafayette Regional finishing three shots clear of Auburn.

“This golf course is such a great test. From tee to green you have to hit the ball well and you have to score on the scoreable holes. It never lets up. It doesn’t let you take a break and these guys learned that earlier this spring.”

For the Rebels it is the program’s fifth regional victory and first since 2005.

• • •

SHORT SHOTS: Florida became just the second No. 1 seed in NCAA history to not advance out of regional play. Clemson was the only other team to do so when they missed at the Northeast Regional in 2009. “It was the most disappointing day we’ve all ever had on a golf course. Not in a million rounds did I ever think this could happen to this team,” Florida head coach J.C. Deacon said. … Auburn which led at times during the final round would finish second and advances to the NCAA finals for the sixth consecutive year. … The final round scoring average was 76.49.

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