La Salle's dream season comes to end in Sweet 16

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La Salle's dream season comes to end in Sweet 16

BOX SCORE

LOS ANGELES -- The La Salle section at Staples Center was across from the Explorers’ bench and just behind press row. It was overflowing with La Salle students and alumni and fans. So many of them were wearing blue and gold and giant smiles before tipoff. Their gear didn’t change as the game went on, but their expressions did.

You could see it on their faces -- a worried look here, a shake of the head there. They knew the way things were going. It was obvious to everyone in the building.

The Explorers were a great story this season. They posted a school record for conference victories. They made their first NCAA Tournament in 21 years. They won three tournament games in five days, which was one more Big Dance victory than the program mustered in the previous 57 years combined. They reached their first Sweet 16 since 1955, and they became just the second team in NCAA history to go from the First Four play-in round to the Sweet 16.

It was an amazing run. It was a memorable run. It was the kind of run people will talk fondly about for a long time. And now it’s over.

The 13th-seeded Explorers lost to ninth-seeded Wichita State on Thursday, 72-58 (see Instant Replay). La Salle (24-10) trailed the entire game. The Shockers (29-8) will play second-seeded Ohio State on Saturday in the West Region Elite Eight.

“We have a great group here,” La Salle head coach John Giannini said. “I think everyone on our team has a great feeling about this year. They have a great feeling about each other. I think they’ve gotten better as a team, as players and as people.”

Giannini -- who said that Wichita State won the game in the first half and “overwhelmed us” -- noted that it took the Explorers a while to “adjust to the level they were playing at.” His feelings on the matter were shared by those who watched from the crowd. At one point, someone sitting in the stands near La Salle legend Lionel Simmons yelled out that the Explorers should “pick up the pace.” It was a good idea. It was also a lot easier to say than do.

The Shockers have eight players who are 6-5 or taller. Giannini predicted that might be a problem for the Explorers, a smaller, guard-oriented team. He was right. Wichita State dominated La Salle on the glass, outrebounding the Explorers, 47-29. The Shockers also scored 40 points in the paint (compared to 26 for La Salle).

That part -- Wichita State’s sizeable size advantage -- was expected. What wasn’t expected, what surprised a lot of people, was how quick the Shockers turned out to be. The Explorers won their first three games of the tournament, in part, because they were faster than their opponents -- able to get around defenders and go to the basket or kick the ball back out and nail jumpers from the perimeter.

That wasn’t the case on Thursday. The Shockers were every bit as quick as the Explorers. In a highly unusual development, La Salle didn’t have any fastbreak points.

“Most teams we’re quicker than, but their quickness was surprising,” Giannini said. “They’re very impressive. They’re as good as anyone we played all year.”

Compounding the problem was the fact that La Salle didn’t have a great shooting night. Or even a good shooting night. The Explorers hit just 35.7 percent from the floor and 38.9 from three-point range.

Wichita State did an excellent job defending Ramon Galloway. The senior guard had three solid outings to start the tournament, scoring 21 points against Boise State, 19 against Kansas State and 24 against Ole Miss. Against the Shockers, however, Galloway made just four of his 15 shots from the field (2 for 6 from distance) for 11 points.

The rest of the team wasn’t much better. Tyrone Garland (5 for 15 from the field) and Jerrell Wright led the Explorers with 16 points each. No one else on La Salle scored in double figures.

“They were all over the place defensively,” Garland said. “They came to play. I can honestly say, by far, one of the most physical teams we’ve played. They were after it. They won every 50-50 ball almost, and they got every rebound they needed to get.”

Though they denied that fatigue was a factor, it’s possible the Explorers were a bit tired. They haven’t been back to Philly since beginning their run more than a week ago. La Salle played four games in nine days, making stops in Dayton, Kansas City and Los Angeles, and traveling a total of 2,754 miles.

Despite the defeat, the Explorers had an incredible season. Only six La Salle teams have won more games in a single season than this group. And the Explorers became just the fifth 13 seed ever to reach the Sweet 16, joining Bradley (2006), Oklahoma (1999), Richmond (1988) and Valparaiso (1998).

When the game was over, the La Salle section of the Staples Center stood and applauded. The Explorers and Giannini walked over and waved and thanked them.

“I want to thank every student, every staff member, everybody from the janitors to everybody who helped out at La Salle,” Galloway said. “Without them, there wouldn’t be a La Salle. You’ve got to have people who come and help out. It means a lot to us. I want to thank everybody in the La Salle community. They were proud of us and we were proud of them.”

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.”