La Salle gets first NCAA tourney win since 1990

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La Salle gets first NCAA tourney win since 1990

BOX SCORE

DAYTON, Ohio -- Just behind the media seating, in one of the first few rows, the third-leading scorer in NCAA history watched the action with great interest. Lionel Simmons was on the court the last time La Salle won an NCAA tournament game -- way back in 1990. As totems go, the Explorers could have done worse.

“L-Train was here,” La Salle head coach John Giannini beamed after the game. “How awesome is that?”

Simmons mixed in with a sold-out crowd at UD Arena to watch No. 13 La Salle take on No. 13 Boise State in the first-round/play-in game on Wednesday evening. It had been 21 years since the Explorers played on a floor with the NCAA logo stamped on it. It won’t be nearly as long until they do so again.

La Salle beat Boise State, 80-71 (see Instant Replay). For their effort, the Explorers (22-9) will head to Kansas City, Missouri, to take on No. 4 Kansas State at 3:10 p.m. on Friday.

“It’s a great thing -- for any school it’s a great thing,” Giannini said. “It’s really satisfying, but I don’t want it to be satisfying because satisfied competitors aren’t as good as hungry ones."

The desire Giannini was talking about was evident on Wednesday. La Salle, which limped into the tournament having lost two straight, had a lot to prove. The Explorers were one of the last teams to make the field, and they had a poor shooting effort against Butler in the Atlantic 10 tournament.

That changed against Boise State. Before the game, Giannini and Broncos head coach Leon Rice both insisted that the outcome would be determined by guard play and which team shot the ball better (see story). They were both right, though Giannini was obviously far more thrilled than Rice was about the joint prediction coming true.

La Salle picked an excellent time to have its best shooting performance of the year. That isn’t hyperbole. The Explorers shot a season-high 63.3 percent from the field. They also made an impressive 52 percent of their attempts from three-point range.

“It’s a relief,” senior guard Ramon Galloway said. “We were kind of in a slump. We’re at our best when we can knock down shots and get up and down the floor. For us to have this type of game and win, it relieves a lot of pressure off our chest because now we have even more confidence going into the next game. We know that every day, it’s win or go home. We want to be there. We want to make a statement.”

As Giannini noted, “the difference in the game [was] we had four or five guards playing at a high level.” Junior guard Tyrone Garland came off the bench to lead La Salle with 22 points. Galloway added 21 points, and junior guard Sam Mills had 15 points.

More than anyone, it was Garland who pushed the pace for La Salle and helped the Explorers get past Boise State. Earlier in the week, when Rice was asked about the biggest difference between the two very-similar teams, he said that the Explorers were quicker than his squad. He was right about that, too. When Garland had the Broncos step out on him (or Galloway or, really, any of the La Salle guards), he and his teammates frequently put the ball on the floor and blew past them on the way to easy buckets in the lane. (The Explorers had 36 points in the paint and 17 points off fast breaks.)

“It means a lot,” Galloway said about picking up the school’s first NCAA tournament victory in more than two decades. “It’s going to bring our fans and alumni back. When you’re winning, alumni and fans feel good about their school. I saw we had our own little section here and everything. It made us play so much harder because we knew we had support. I’m not going to lie, I probably didn’t think there would be that many people traveling. But, you know, they were there, and they proved me wrong. We’ve got to fight for them. We’ve got to fight for the name on our chest.”

As the game funneled toward its conclusion, the Explorers fans that made the trip to Dayton -- the ones Galloway and Giannini and the rest later waved to as they walked off the court -- began singing happy birthday to the university. Wednesday was the school’s 150th anniversary. It was also the 59th anniversary of La Salle’s 1954 NCAA Championship. The Explorers beat Bradley that year. And the location? Same place they’re going next -- Kansas City.

Villanova stays put at No. 2 for the 3rd straight week

Villanova stays put at No. 2 for the 3rd straight week

Villanova stayed put in the national rankings this week.

The defending champion Wildcats remained the No. 2 overall team in the Associated Press top-25 poll behind 24-0 Gonzaga. The Bulldogs received 59 first-place votes while Villanova received five votes. Kansas, which came in at No. 3, received the other No. 1 vote.

The Wildcats stayed where they were in the rankings after holding their own with two comfortable road wins, in large part thanks to sophomore point guard Jalen Brunson. Brunson was the big man on campus this week, beginning with a team-high 18 points in a 75-62 win at DePaul on Monday. He followed it up with his first career double-double as he put together a 22-point, 10-assist effort in a blowout win over Seton Hall in Newark on Saturday.

The win over the Pirates meant the Wildcats clinched a share of the Big East regular-season title for the fourth straight year. One win in their last three regular season games or one loss each by Butler and Creighton would hand Villanova sole possession of the Big East crown. 

Therefore, it's only fitting that the Wildcats' next two games are against none other than Butler and Creighton. Butler handed Villanova its first loss of the season back on Jan. 4 at Hinkle Fieldhouse, but the No. 22 Bulldogs have to travel to Philadelphia for the rematch on Wednesday. The No. 23 Blue Jays then head to the Pavillion for a Saturday afternoon duel. The Wildcats beat Creighton, 80-70, on New Year's Eve in Omaha.

At this point last season, Villanova had four losses (two in conference) and had just a one-game lead in the Big East. This year, they have much more room for comfort, albeit with a tough week with two ranked opponents ahead of them. 

Behind the top three, which remained static this week, the Pac 12 had three teams ranked 4-6 – Arizona, UCLA and Oregon – in the poll this week. The ACC had six teams in the top 25, including No. 7 Louisville, No. 8 North Carolina and No. 10 Duke. Baylor, which lost to Kansas on Saturday, fell from No. 4 to No. 9. 

Temple's youth shows again as lead slips away late in loss to UConn

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Temple's youth shows again as lead slips away late in loss to UConn

BOX SCORE

Temple’s Sunday tilt with UConn at the Liacouras Center was the embodiment of a young team trying to find its way.

The Owls had a double-digit lead against one of the hottest teams in the nation, thanks in part to their young guys producing in pivotal moments in the game.

However, the inability to finish cost Temple again, as the Owls allowed Jalen Adams to convert a reverse layup with 2.9 seconds remaining in a 64-63 loss to the Huskies (see Instant Replay).

“It’s hard,” Temple Head Coach Fran Dunphy said after the loss. “We have two of these now. We have Tulsa (70-68 on Jan. 14) and Connecticut at the buzzer at home. There’s not a lot to say.

“If we all make one better decision, including me, whether it’s a defensive set, a substitution or whatever. They hold onto the ball, they get a rebound, they make a shot, whatever it happens to be. We all make one better decision and we’re coming away with two great wins in Tulsa and UConn and not sitting here after two tough losses.”

After UConn hit a three to tie the game at 60, Temple freshman Quinton Rose made a huge three-pointer of his own to put the Owls back up 63-60 with 2:32 left in the game.

With Temple (14-14, 5-10 AAC) still clinging to a three-point lead, sophomore Shizz Alston, Jr. came up with a huge offensive rebound, only to turn it over with 1:08 left on the clock. Adams came up with the steal and raced up the court, but was fouled by Rose while attempting a dunk.

Following Adams’ two makes at the free-throw line, Temple’s lead was trimmed to just 63-62. On the ensuing possession, senior Daniel Dingle was fouled by UConn guard Rodney Purvis.

Dingle missed the front end of a one-and-one set at the line, which set the stage for Adams’ acrobatic shot to give the Huskies (14-12, 9-5 AAC) their seventh win in the last eight games.

“We knew they were going to come off that high ball screen with Adams,” Dunphy said. “We needed to sit down and keep him in front of us. One guy could have helped a little bit more than he did. It would have been a drive and kick for an open jumper, but it would have been better than [a layup]. The other guy just needs to sit down on that play and keep Adams in front of him, but we knew that ball screen was coming.”

“I honestly thought the ball was going to Purvis because he made the last three shots, so I did my best to deny him,” Dingle said. “[Adams] did a fantastic move.”

Things had been going Temple’s way for a majority of the night. The Owls led for the vast majority of game time thanks in part to 5 of 9 shooting from three in the first half, which gave them a 35-29 halftime lead. The lead increased to 56-46 with 8:29 left in the contest.

Dingle’s all-around play and leadership helped push Temple ahead. Freshmen Damien Moore and Alani Moore II combined for 22 points on 9 of 10 shooting.

However, the Owls went cold late. Temple made only 2 of 12 three-point shots in the second half.

UConn's day went in the opposite direction as the Huskies shot a blistering 54.2 percent in the second half and 62.5 percent from downtown. Purvis poured in 13 of his game-high 18 after intermission.

“The younger guys are doing very well,” said Dingle, who finished with 17 points, six rebounds and six assists. “We’re going to learn how to win. They’re doing a great job. It just so happens that we let one get away again.”

The Owls have made close defeats a habit. Sunday marked their fifth loss this season by five points or less.

These type of losses are the reason why Temple is in the eighth spot in the American Athletic Conference. With three regular-season games left and the AAC conference tournament quickly approaching, this Temple team, which holds victories over No. 9 West Virginia and No. 17 Florida State, will need to start showing the same promise it had earlier in the season to keep alive any dreams of dancing in the NCAA Tournament.

“I definitely talk to the guys about having that sense of urgency,” Dingle said. “For me, time is running out, so that’s the sense of urgency I’ve got. We’ve got to get there as a whole. I say that in the huddle, ‘We’ve got to get there.’ I remember being a freshman to now I’m in my fifth year. Time is not waiting, so every game we’ve got to go out there and play like it’s our last.

“The sense of urgency I think is all right but it has to increase. In order for us to get an opportunity to play in the NCAA [Tournament] – that’s something I want to do and I know the team wants bad for us as a whole and definitely for the seniors. Coach talks about the sense of urgency has to pick up.”