Dallas Colleges: Saint Mary's Gaels
It looks like these two teams are playing a meaningless, non-conference game here like in some preseason tourney or something. The lower bowl, even the premium seats, let alone the end zone seats, isn't even full. The middle bowl has a few folks scattered about. It's another reason why it's too bad the Aggies aren't here.
A nice roar has filled the cavernous space for the Bears' entrance onto the raised floor in the center of Reliant. Unless there's 40,000 Dukies outside, this has to be a significant disappointment. One thing is for sure, this is not the Carrier Dome.
Think there's a lot of green-and-gold out here? You bet. Can you imagine the size of the maroon invasion that would have flocked to Houston -- and the legions already in Houston -- to see their beloved Aggies take on top-seeded Duke? By sheer size of the schools and alumni bases, Aggies likely would have outnumbered Bears 3-to-1.
A&M coach Mark Turgeon fully registered the ramifications.
"There's just some losses you'll never get over," Turgeon said of the 63-61 overtime loss to Purdue at his season-ending press conference Thursday at Reed Arena. Turgeon compared the heartache of Sunday's loss to that of his playing days at Kansas when the Jayhawks fell to Duke, 71-67, in the 1986 national semifinal. "Sunday's [is] a game we'll never get over. Our effort was tremendous, our preparation was tremendous, we just came up short. I think it's what lied ahead of that game as far as being able to go to Houston and play a No. 1 seed. It would have been great for our program. It still stings."
Instead, the Boilermarkers, still without their injured star Robbie Hummel are here to face the Blue Devils. And, Baylor is the singular toast of the Lone Star state, the last of seven Texas schools standing that started the NCAA tournament last week. The Bears are gobbling up the media attention from all directions and, most important, they have the full attention of recruits across the state and region.
The Bears are just a couple hours away from taking on the Saint Mary's Gaels in the first game of the South regional. Duke and Purdue follow. Who knows how many Aggies can bear even watching.
"It's great to be down here," Baylor coach Scott Drew said. "I know our team is excited to be close to home and having an opportunity to have Baylor Nation down here, and more importantly representing the state of Texas and the Big 12 Conference, so we're excited."
Yep, the Purdue Boilermakers, 90-79.
They'll meet again on Sunday with the South Region title and a berth in the Final Four on the line if No. 3 Baylor gets past No. 10 Saint Mary's and No. 4 Purdue upsets No. 1 Duke tonight at Houston's Reliant Stadium.
While both rosters have changed, many of this season's key players for both teams played in the 2008 game, including Tweety Carter, LaceDarius Dunn and Josh Lomers for the Bears.
Injured Purdue star Robbie Hummel didn't play a major role in that game, scoring nine points in 17 minutes. But, Chris Kramer, the hero in last week's second-round win over Texas A&M, E'Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson combined for 36 points.
The Boilermakers blew the 2008 game open in the first half on 50 percent shooting while knocking six 3-pointers to lead 46-27 at halftime.
Oops, after tying for second place in the Big 12, the Bears are now one of 16 teams in the NCAA tournament still standing. Third-seed Baylor faces No. 10 Saint Mary's in Houston on Friday for the right to advance to the Elite Eight against either No. 1 Duke or No. 4 Purdue.
"I think everything happens for a reason, but at the same time when you see that and you know what type of team you have, especially as a leader of this team, I took it as disrespect," Bears senior point guard Tweety Carter said. "They just didn't give us any respect coming into this season. It's something that you've got to take."
Drew is quick to note that surely the Big 12 coaches took into consideration Baylor's loss of three starters in Curtis Jerrels, Henry Dugat and Kevin Rogers from a team that went 5-11 in conference last season -- although it rebounded to make the Big 12 tournament title game and the NIT title game. Baylor went 11-5 this season in conference play and has won a school-record 27 games. It has not lost a game this season by more than seven points.
Baylor advanced to its first Sweet 16 in modern history and pundits are giving the team a fighter's chance to get to the Final Four.
"I don't play this game to worry about what anybody else thinks," Carter said. "As long as this family here is tight, I'm all right. But, at the same time it comes up in the back of your mind that we've got to come out here and show them we're better than 10th."
"I do. I think it's a very important matchup," Samhan, the dominant player in the NCAA tournament so far, averaging 30.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in two wins, said Monday on a teleconference. "There's also the guard matchup that's going to be huge, but I think the bigs have really dictated a lot for their teams this year, me and him, and I think it's going to be a key matchup."
So how does the 265-pound senior like his chances against the junior Udoh, who said he weighs in at about 240 pounds "on a good day"?
"Well, the biggest challenges is he can jump and I can't. Um, he's fast and I'm not. He's strong and I'm not. A lot of the challenges are physical," Samhan, laughing, yet halfway serious. "Like I said, he's a great athlete, but I'm pretty skilled down low. Although I'll have trouble guarding him, I think he'll have trouble guarding me. The biggest thing is he going to go one-on-one with me or are they going to run that zone? We don't really know what they're going to do."
Baylor will stick mostly with their 2-3 zone, why change now? That means Baylor's back line of Udoh, 7-foot Josh Lomers -- 6-7 Quincy Acy when he's in and Lomers is out -- and lanky 6-10 Anthony Jones will have their hands full containing Samhan, who has increased his scoring by 10 points from the regular season and is shooting 75 percent in two NCAA tournament games.
"It's going to be tough, we're just going to have to pick and choose when we switch out [of zone to man-to-man]," Udoh said. "I've watched him play, he's a bigger guy, he has a European taste to his game, I mean, it's going to be fun."
Villanova coach Jay Wright said he tried everything against Samhan and nothing worked.
"If they go one-on-one I think it will be a good matchup and could be a good battle in there," Samhan said. "If they go zone or double-team I'll probably have to kick out more, so we won't be able to see me go to work that much against him."
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