NCAA Tournament: Wichita State, La Salle both insist they belong
Los Angeles • Wichita State and La Salle busted a few brackets with their early wins in the NCAA Tournament. Now they're in the final 16 and playing a short drive from Hollywood. Just don't script their matchup as a meeting of underdogs.
These guys think they've got a lot of credibility, even if large chunks of the country didn't pay them any attention until now.
"The beautiful thing about the NCAA Tournament is to see great teams that you don't see every night and to see different players that you might see some day at the next level," La Salle coach John Giannini said.
The ninth-seeded Shockers (28-8) and No. 13 Explorers (24-9) meet in the second West Regional semifinal on Thursday night at Staples Center.
Ramon Galloway of La Salle couldn't resist creating some of his own NBA-style moves at the end of Wednesday's open practice. The senior guard, one of four Philadelphia-bred players on the team, showed off what he called "dunk-contest dunks."
"When the game time comes, if I can get a fast break, hopefully I can show the world what I can do," he said.
The Explorers and the Shockers have proud pasts in the tournament; they occurred just long enough ago to have fallen off the current radar. La Salle was the 1954 national champion; Wichita State made the 1965 Final Four.
"We're not rags to riches," said Giannini, whose Ph.D. in kinesiology earned him the title of Dr. in front of his name. "Maybe people are surprised we've won three in a row. But we've beaten good teams all year."
And the Explorers will have to beat another one to continue their tournament road trip that began 2,754 miles ago in Dayton, Ohio, where they won a play-in game against Boise State to get into the NCAAs. Then they took out Kansas State and Mississippi by a combined four points in Kansas City, and haven't been back to Philly since.
"If we would have gone home, we might have lost focus just enough to slip up a little bit," guard Tyreek Duren said.
Indeed, their city has embraced the team. The 76ers posted a good luck message for the Explorers on the video board at Wednesday night's game that was greeted with an ovation.
"We didn't have that support all year," Galloway said. "When you do stuff and people get to see you, then they actually praise you. I'm just glad that we've got the opportunity to play on national television, in front of everybody, so everybody can see what La Salle stands for."
The Shockers did return home after their upset of No. 1 seed Gonzaga.
"The community was very excited, but it was just a regular basketball game for us," guard Malcolm Armstead said. "It proved a lot to the country and also to ourselves, but it was just something that we had to do."