Proud La Salle announces return
by Steve Wieberg, Special to USA TODAY Sports
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Now, Philadelphia’s Big 5 is whole again.
For more than two long decades, La Salle fans fidgeted as Villanova, Temple, St. Joseph’s and Pennsylvania snapped up recruits, won games and collected NCAA tournament bids. The Explorers fell to obscurity, going one 13-year stretch without a winning record, enduring 21 years without an NCAA invitation and largely slipping from the nation’s radar.
Tom Gola? Lionel Simmons? They seemed — and were — long gone.
Sunday night, La Salle reannounced itself. A week after landing one of the tournament’s last four at-large invitations, at the end of a grueling three-game, five-day stretch that started in the First Four in Dayton, Ohio, the Explorers defeated Mississippi 76-74 to join the Sweet 16 for the first time since the great Gola led them to back-to-back national championship games in the 1950s.
Just the sixth team to carry a No. 13 seed this far, La Salle faces ninth seed Wichita State in Thursday’s West Regional semifinals in Los Angeles.
Cast the Shockers — who knocked out Gonzaga, the top seed in the West Region — as Cinderella if you will. But don’t expect affirmation from a La Salle group steeled during the regular season in the impressively deep Atlantic 10 Conference. The Explorers took down Boise State, then Big 12 Conference co-champion Kansas State before beating Ole Miss.
“Absolutely not,” says Ramon Galloway, the Explorers’ leading scorer and the only senior in their playing rotation, who led them with 24 points Sunday. “I mean, it’s a Cinderella story to the media and everybody that looks down on La Salle. Because ain’t nobody had La Salle winning this much or coming this far in the dance. But for us, we already said through the whole year that we can play with everybody.”
A team built on a formidable collection of guards, one of them — junior Tyrone Garland — recalls coach John Giannini seeking him out in the moments after the Explorers’ 80-71 win over Boise State in Dayton, their first tournament victory since 1990.
“When ‘G’ recruited me, the first thing he told me was, ‘I think you’re the … [For more on Proud La Salle announces return with run to Sweet 16, click here.]