KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- We interrupt the Florida Gulf Coast lovefest to give you the second-most cuddly story, forged by the second-lowest seed left in the tournament.
La Salle in L.A.
Or is it L.A. Salle?
La-La Land, indeed.
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Actually, it's a Philly thing now that the Explorers are in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1955. A Philly thing with style. To you and me it was a driving layup by guard Tyrone Garland with 2.5 seconds that beat Mississippi 76-74 here in a Round-of-32 game. To the 6-foot-1 kid with skinny dreads who hit it, it was something called the “Southwest Philly Floater.”
"It's a saying for, if you're going up against a big man,” Garland said. “You've got to float it up there. My cousin always told me, ‘If they're going to block your shot, use your Southwest Philly Floater.' "
Garland learned well. The Virginia Tech transfer grew up on the playgrounds of Southwest Philly. And the big man in question this time was Ole Miss' all-time shot blocker Reggie Buckner. Garland found a slight opening against the Rebels' zone and Philly floated a ball that oozed into the net as the clock wound down. It sent his team from a tie for third place in the Atlantic 10, by way of Dayton and Kansas City, to the Staples Center.
That's where a program that had been to one NCAA tournament in 21 years will play Wichita State this week. The winner, incredibly, goes to the Elite Eight.
Welcome, then, to perhaps the second-biggest surprise survivor of the first weekend. The 13th-seeded Explorers split their last six games before getting an NCAA bid, tantalizingly. Their name came up on the last list of names announced on CBS -- in a play-in game. After surviving Boise State in Dayton and Kansas State and pro-Wildcats crowd on Friday, they made history in the Sprint Center before what seemed to be a few close friends.
Most of the Kansas fans had left after their team beat North Carolina in the day's first game.
Now anything seems possible. The West Region is the only one that doesn't have a No. 1 seed left. Along with second-seeded Ohio State, there is No. 6 Arizona, No. 9 Wichita State and La Salle.
“There's no parity,” said La Salle coach Dr. John Giannini. “Parity makes it sound like everyone is average. Everyone's good … Maybe no one is great the way Jordan, Perkins and Worthy were, but everyone is good.”
So why not La Salle? The Explorers don't look intimidating, but their four-guard offense gave K-State and Ole Miss fits. A team that shot 45 percent during the season, shot 52 percent here. That four-guard lineup doesn't actually include Garland who spent two seasons with Seth Greenberg at Virginia Tech before transferring.
“I don't regret going there,” Garland said. “I came to a better place.”
The kid is so chill that he checked out Wichita State's win over Gonzaga on Saturday on his phone -- while at the movies. Let the rest of the scouting begin.
Most of La Salle's basketball history is ancient. Its arena is named after Tom Gola, MVP of the 1954 tournament. The school is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Coming into Sunday, it had won as many NCAA tournament games (two) as it had in the previous 57 years.
Giannini -- his PhD is in sports psychology -- had labored for nine years at the school, never getting further than a first-round loss in the NIT.
The final play developed after an Ole Miss shot-clock violation with 31.8 seconds left.
“I wasn't going to call timeout and make sure he [Garland] a got a jump shot, that's for sure,” Giannini said.
“I was just going in for the shot,” Garland said. “I made it a lot on the playground. I made it a lot in high school, AAU. But this was the best shot. This is going to be at the top. This is going to bring La Salle back to where it was.”
The Explorers trailed by five with 4:18 left but Ole Miss was doomed by bad free-throw shooting. Twin post men Holloway and Reggie Buckner were a combined five of 12 from the line. They both shoot around 55 percent. Gunner Marshall Henderson was pushed far enough back. He scored 40 points in the two Kansas City games (19 on Sunday) but it took him 42 shots to do it.
Meanwhile, the Explorer's four-guard lineup was able to penetrate Ole Miss' zone shooting 56.5 percent in the second half.
“They earned the right to go to the Sweet 16,” Kennedy said.
You'll no doubt find the result buried in Monday's papers, somewhere below that cuddly tournament story from Fort Myers, Fla. But beginning this week, someone is going to have to take notice.
L.A. Salle is taking L.A.