PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- The arrogance of Villanova, perhaps feeling a sense of Big East entitlement, was never more on display than when the Wildcats refused to consistently double-team one of the most dangerous big men left in the NCAA tournament. That would be St. Mary's center Omar Samhan, who politely obliged with a butt whooping.
What Samhan did to the Wildcats in St. Mary's 75-68 win likely violated several decency laws. Samhan hook shot. Samhan dunk. Samhan outside kiss off the glass. The only thing Samhan didn't do was rescue a cat from a tree and reform health care.
"They didn't double me," Samhan said. "I guess because I'm a slow white guy that's overweight."
He's not slow and that aforementioned pudginess didn't stop Samhan from moving through Villanova with the ease of a fighter jet through non-turbulent air.
"Omar's a beast," St. Mary's forward Clint Steindl said.
It says so on Samhan's lower lip, where he has the word "beast" tattooed. No kidding. He pulled down his lower lip and showed a group of us. He got the tattoo two weeks before the tournament. The way Samhan's playing, he can get any tattoo he wants, but "beast" is apropos.
Samhan's performance was simultaneously inspiring and instructive. No player right now -- not one -- is playing better than Samhan, who destroyed Villanova for 32 points on 13-of-16 shooting. Villanova, the second seed, for whatever inexplicable reason mostly left Samhan alone even after he started to really heat up in the second half.
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That stupidity sank Villanova, and overall it seemed the Wildcats never took this tournament seriously. They should've lost to Robert Morris in the first round and they were soundly beaten by 10th-seeded Saint Mary's, which is making its first trip to the Sweet 16. Thanks for playing, Villanova, now time to go to your room.
To some, Samhan will seem annoying and talky. After the Villanova game, he declared how he wanted to next face Kentucky's DeMarcus Cousins, perhaps the best big man in the nation. "You tell Cousins I want him," Samhan explained.
To others, he's not talky but a remarkable story and a fresh face amid a sea of athletes and coaches afraid to say anything of substance. Samhan was as fearless off the court in his chats with the media as he was on the court in dismantling Villanova. It drew a chuckle from some media members when Samhan said how easy it has been for him to score in the tournament. Those are confident words normally used when notepads and cameras are out of range.
But hell, he's backing up those words, so why not be chatty? Samhan feels -- rightfully so -- that the Gaels have been overlooked by just about everyone.
"If a Top 25 poll came out right now we wouldn't get a vote," he said. "We don't get respect."
They should now. Villanova may have had a slim second-half lead at one point, but it never felt like St. Mary's was in danger. The Wildcats trailed by seven at halftime and each time Villanova got close, the Gaels would toss it inside to Samhan.
|Omar Samhan hams it up for the CBS Sports cameras after the St. Mary's win. (US Presswire)|
His story has a familiar feel. To say a star is born with Samhan isn't quite accurate. He has been on basketball's radar for some time, but the nation doesn't know him and the country is about to get a delicious treat. Samhan is the 2.0 version of Florida's Joakim Noah.
There's going to be a lot of talk about how this St. Mary's group is scrappy. But they're not scrappy. They're good athletes catching fire. Actually, they're just good. Period. That's it. That's all.
"Nobody expected us to be in this situation when we started the year," said St. Mary's coach Randy Bennett. "Maybe the guys did, but I think even they would admit we were a little unsure. But as we played we keep winning and winning and winning and winning and they just gain confidence.
"This team has improved so much. We've improved in different areas as the year has gone on. But from start to finish this team has improved a lot. So to be in this situation is impressive for me as a coach looking at these guys ... where we were at to start the year until now. Yeah, Villanova is Villanova. We don't really care -- we don't care -- we think our league is good."
As the game concluded, Samhan tossed the basketball high into the air and then headed for a section of St. Mary's fans in a corner of the arena. He jumped a partition and started to mingle with the crowd, hugging anyone within hugging range.
He later asked one of the members of the St. Mary's athletic department, "Did it really happen? We won? For real?"
Yes, it happened, thanks to Samhan.