La Salle not wrapped up in other people's impressions

JAMIE SQUIRE/GETTY IMAGES La Salle coach John Giannini: 'The external stuff doesn't really matter to us. Winning games matters a lot. What someone writes or says doesn't mean a lot, quite frankly.'
JAMIE SQUIRE/GETTY IMAGES La Salle coach John Giannini: 'The external stuff doesn't really matter to us. Winning games matters a lot. What someone writes or says doesn't mean a lot, quite frankly.'
Posted: March 27, 2013

FROM 1956 through 2012, La Salle played 11 NCAA Tournament games and won two. From Wednesday through Sunday, in two time zones, the Explorers played three. They're still playing.

And maybe the best thing about it is, they don't think they are doing anything that special. They're just playing. They just happen to be playing well, something they've been mostly doing for the last two seasons. Now they are just doing it on a much more prominent stage.

Perspective-wise, to outsiders, it makes all the difference. From within, they'd just appreciate it if you didn't characterize them as bracket busters.

"What people label us, we really try not to acknowledge," coach John Gianinni said Sunday night, after his guys improved to 24-9 with a 76-74 victory over SEC champion Mississippi (27-9) in Kansas City to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. "If, going into next year, people talk about how great we're going to be, we're not going to listen. We just don't listen.

"We care about basketball and we care about preparing, and that's how we'll go into this weekend and next year. The external stuff doesn't really matter to us. Winning games matters a lot. What someone writes or says doesn't mean a lot, quite frankly.

"We expect to have another tough game and have a chance to win if we prepare well. No more or less than that."

So does anyone really even care anymore that the Explorers were one of the last teams in the field?

Next up for the 13th-seeded Explorers is No. 9 Wichita State (28-8), Thursday night in Los Angeles. They'll be an underdog. So what else is new? At this point, do you think it matters?

"We've been working since last summer for this, and I'm glad that everyone is now starting to see that we can play with the top teams in the nation," junior guard Sam Mills said. "As long as we give it our best on both ends of the floor, I think we should be good."

The Shockers made it this far by taking out top-ranked Gonzaga on Saturday in Salt Lake City. But La Salle could be playing the Heat at the Staples Center and it might not change a thing. They've never questioned their own legitimacy. So why should anyone else?

"You have to have the will," said senior guard Ramon Galloway, the Explorers' leading scorer. "You have to be poised. You have to have confidence in all your teammates, from the first guy on the bench to the last guy in the game. Right now, we're just peaking, because we're mentally strong."

You're not supposed to beat Kansas State 2 hours from K-State's campus - which the Explorers did on Friday - especially when you fall behind late after blowing an 18-point halftime lead. But they did, in large part because sophomore forward Jerrell Wright, a 60 percent foul shooter, kept making free throws down the stretch. And every time they needed a big play to overcome a five-point deficit in the final 4 minutes against Ole Miss, somebody came up with one. Junior guard Tyrone Garland supplied the one everyone will remember, a driving layup over 6-9 Reginald Buckner with 2.5 seconds to go that will forever be known as the Southwest Philly Floater. You can't make this stuff up.

They've won despite the fact that junior guard Tyreek Duren, a second-team all-Atlantic 10 selection, didn't do much against either Boise State or K-State (before getting 19 points vs. the Rebels). Or that they're missing injured reserve Steve Zack (foot injury), which leaves them really thin in the frontcourt. Nothing seems to get in their way. And doesn't it seem like such a long time ago that they lost their last two games before the tourney, at Saint Louis and against Butler in the A-10 quarterfinals, by double digits, which threatened to keep them out of the Madness? In case you haven't been paying attention, both of those teams are gone.

"There's no parity," Giannini said. "Parity makes it sound like everyone is average. Everyone's good. You know what Wichita State's budget and facility is like and tradition? Why wouldn't they be terrific? Maybe no one is great the way . . . Patrick Ewing's teams [were], but . . . There's teams not in this tournament that could advance quite easily."

So if somebody had told him way back when that his team would have to beat Wichita State to get within one game of the Final Four, he would have said what?

"That it could happen."

Even if it hadn't in forever.

"I don't know how to feel, because I've never been here," Galloway said. "I can say it's the greatest feeling, but I don't know right now. I'm happy. It's a wonderful story. It just great to . . . uplift the La Salle community again.

"I'm thankful that everybody is [behind] us. But at this point, I can't get too caught up in what the world is saying about La Salle. I'm just happy that we're getting new fans. That's it."

And it can't get much better. Unless, of course, they ride this all the way to Atlanta.

The only ones who wouldn't be surprised are the Explorers.

As a smiling Giannini so aptly put it before the Ole Miss game: "We have no self-esteem issues."

By all means, play on.

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