Time to play
Wichita State is no longer the underdog. It should be used to all the congratulations and hype as it enters the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.
All of those parts of the tournament must be put aside to prepare for Thursday’s game. The Shockers practiced Wednesday at Southern Cal’s Galen Center before coming to the Staples Center for a public practice. Coach Gregg Marshall liked how the closed session unfolded.
“Hopefully, we can get that practice into the game (Thursday),” he said. “We didn’t come out here for vacation. We’d like to extend the stay and play two games this weekend.”
Marshall’s message to the team after beating Pittsburgh — “Are you satisfied?” continues to apply. WSU is two wins from returning to the Final Four for the first time since 1965.
“We’re out here on a business trip,” forward Jake White said. “We’re here to do some damage and win some games.”
Playing hurt again
Wichita State senior Demetric Williams can’t remember the last time he played close to full health.
He started the school year with ankle surgery in August. He sat out the second half of a February game with a bruised hip, an injury that bothered him for weeks. Now his left knee is inflamed and bruised on the bone in two spots.
“There’s no time for rest,” he said. “I’ve been battling all injuries all year. You’ve just got to play through it.”
His mind went back to November and December for the last time he felt close to 100 percent.
“It’s hard to say,” he said. “It would have to be one of the times early, but it’s hard to even say.”
Zack is back
La Salle sophomore center Steve Zack is expected to play Thursday after missing six games with a sprained foot. His return gives the Explorers an injection of size — 6-foot-11, 245 pounds.
“We can become a very big team very quickly by playing Steve Zack and Jerrell Wright together,” La Salle coach John Giannini said.
Giannini didn’t count on Zack. During Wednesday’s practice, the trainer told him Zack got clearance to play.
“He’s obviously out of shape from not having played in four weeks,” Giannini said. “One of the reasons he’s cleared is that they’ve clearly rested the foot and allowed it to heal without putting stress and pressure on it. So he may wake up (Thursday) and be sore. He can play if he feels well enough. So that dramatically changes things.”
Save the Cinderella talk
The Explorers aren’t buying talk of them being a plucky underdog. They view themselves as a good team that played in one of the nation’s best conferences, the Atlantic 10.
La Salle went 11-5 in conference play, beating NCAA teams Butler and VCU. It also defeated Villanova in a non-conference game.
“Those games got us ready for us to be playing against the other big teams in this tournament,” La Salle guard Tyrone Garland said.
Giannini is particularly proud his team earned an at-large spot in the 68-team field.
“We play in a conference where we play top 50, top 100 teams every night,” he said. “We didn’t beat a low-major school in a conference tournament to get here. We’ve played high-level competition all year. I don’t think you can possibly call a school out of the Atlantic 10 that gets to this level a surprise.”
Four Explorers list their hometown as Philadelphia, where La Salle is located.
Giannini hired two assistants with Philly roots and made recruiting his backyard a priority. His history with the Big Five (Philly schools Temple, Villanova, Penn, Saint Joseph’s and La Salle) told him to take that route.
“Every great Big Five team that I remember had great Philadelphia players,” he said. “We wouldn’t be here without Philadelphia players. I think it’s a great thing for kids to stay home. It’s a recruiting pitch, but it’s a real pitch.”
— Paul Suellentrop