La Salle, Villanova happy to share Big Dance

La Salle, Villanova happy to share Big Dance

March 22, 2013, 9:00 am
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John Giannini's Explorers and Jay Wright's Wildcats will each play NCAA tournament games on Friday in Kansas City. (USA Today Images)

KANSAS CITY –- You know that old adage about rising water lifting all boats? Villanova coach Jay Wright figures it applies to La Salle’s win over Boise State Wednesday night.
 
A win for the Explorers was a win for everybody.

“We really believe if the Big 5 schools are doing well, kids in Philadelphia are going to stay home to play there, games are going to be important, Philadelphia basketball is going to be important,” Wright said Thursday at the Sprint Center, where both Villanova and La Salle will play on Friday.
 
So the better La Salle does, the better Villanova and Temple do, the better all of them do.
 
Although Villanova and La Salle are in different regions, they’re in the same building this week, 1,100 miles from home.
 
Wright and La Salle coach John Giannini exchanged texts Wednesday night and will see each other Friday, when their teams try to reach the Round of 32 a few hours apart.
 
At 3:10 p.m. Friday, No. 13 seed La Salle faces No. 4 Kansas State in a West Region second-round game, and at 7:20 p.m. No. 8 Villanova plays No. 9 North Carolina in a South Region second-round game.
 
“Someone mentioned that the state of Texas had zero NCAA teams, and the city of Philadelphia had three,” Giannini said. “I'm a Chicago native, but there's no person who appreciates the Big 5 more than I do. I think we should play them all in the Palestra. I think we should emphasize it. We have five Final Four teams in our history. No other city has more than two. It's a totally unique thing. No city has anything like what we have.”
 
It wasn’t just Wright. Drexel coach Bruiser Flint tweeted congratulations to La Salle after its first NCAA win in 23 years, and Temple coach Fran Dunphy, whose team arrived in Dayton in time for La Salle’s win, also made it a point to congratulate Giannini and the La Salle program.
 
“I’m not surprised those guys support us,” Giannini said in the La Salle locker room Thursday. “And I support them. The coaches are great guys, and they care about more than basketball.
 
“The coaches like each other. The players like each other. We respect each other. We're proud of Philadelphia basketball. No other city has what we have in college basketball.”
 
La Salle’s 80-71 win Wednesday night in a play-in game was the program’s first in the NCAA tournament since Lionel Simmons, Randy Woods and Doug Overton and company beat Clarence Weatherspoon and Southern Mississippi, 79-63, in Hartford in 1990.
 
In an odd quirk of scheduling, La Salle overlapped with Temple in Dayton and then with Villanova in Kansas City.
 
It’s almost as if Dunphy handed Giannini off to Wright.
 
“It's really cool to have La Salle here,” Wright said. “As you know, in Philadelphia, we take great pride in Philadelphia basketball. When we're playing each other, we want to beat each other bad. But anything else … we work together on Coaches vs. Cancer, we're friends throughout the year, and we like to see each other do well.
 
“They played great last night. They really looked good. They look like a team that can win some games in this tournament.”

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