No sleep until Los Angeles.
After winning three games in five days, two of them coming down to the final possession, the Explorers finally got a chance to put heads to pillows. La Salle coach John Giannini gave his players a day off Monday as they prepare to take on No. 9 Wichita St. Thursday night in a Sweet 16 match-up.
“I didn’t push the guys, we didn’t talk about Wichita State, I gave them a day to decompress,” said Giannini Tuesday on a conference call with the Philadelphia media.
Giannini kept it easy on his guys Tuesday, too. The Explorers watched some video on Wichita St. in the morning, endured a light practice, then enjoyed a leisurely night at an outdoor mall in Santa Monica, Calif.
According to Giannini, rest is key at this point in the season. But don’t confuse rest with complacency. That’s not what got La Salle to its deepest NCAA tournament run since 1955.
“We talked about not being happy at this point, and to want more,” said Giannini, recalling yesterday’s meeting. “We talked about the challenge Wichita State imposed. We’re going to be focused and hungry.”
La Salle has been caught in a whirlwind tour for the past 36 hours, quickly gathering local and national media attention. If not for Florida Gulf Coast, they’d likely be the country’s adopted Cinderella.
“The media attention is a wonderful thing to have to deal with, but it is demanding,” Giannini admitted. “It’s great for our program, it’s great for the university, but it does make game preparation difficult because your schedule is always interrupted. But, it’s a wonderful problem to have.”
Road warriors steam ahead
The Explorers have been living out of suitcases since the tournament started. With games in Dayton, Ohio, and Kansas City, it didn’t make sense to return to Philadelphia.
The team would have had to take an overnight flight Sunday, then a cross-country flight early Tuesday.
“It’s always better to have your focus on basketball,” Giannini said. “The alternative was just not attractive to us.”
If they can get two wins out in Los Angeles, the team will be able to book a flight back to campus. Once there, they’ll finally get the hero’s welcome they deserve — and chants for the famed, “Southwest Philly Floater,” the game-winning shot by Tyrone Garland that has taken on a life of its own.
“I thought it was funny, when I heard it and understood what he was talking about,” Giannini said. “It’s the kind of thing a Philly kid would say.”
Size might not matter
It’s no secret that La Salle relies on a small, guard-heavy lineup.
In their first three wins in this tournament, that has served them well. Against Wichita State, it could pose a problem. The Shockers boast four guys taller than La Salle’s biggest inside threat, 6-foot-8 Jerrell Wright.
Or does it?
While coach John Giannini admitted a size disadvantage on paper, he pointed out that only one Wichita State big, 6-foot-9 Cleanthony Early, is a scorer.
“They have more big bodies,” Giannini said, “but when you look at scorers down low, they really have one big guy [No. 11].”
Stats don’t lie, right?
La Salle is 23-0 this season when tied or leading with five minutes or less to play. They are also 7-1 in games decided by four or fewer points, including two, 2-point wins in the NCAA tournament that came down to last possessions.
“Our greatest keys right now are mental edges, nothing to do with shooting,” Giannini said. “”Our biggest strength right now is our will to win.”