LOS ANGELES – Whatever hope La Salle had of turning the NCAA tournament on its ear – or at least becoming the Florida Gulf Coast of the West Regional – dissolved in a matter of minutes Thursday night at Staples Center.
Against a Wichita State team that was too fast and too big and too much of everything, the Explorers never really had a chance. Well, they had one, but it ended before the first TV timeout.
Wichita State’s 72-58 victory over La Salle lifted the No. 9 seeded Shockers into the regional final Saturday against Ohio State, which beat Arizona, 73-70. But while that game had its moments of intrigue, Wichita State-La Salle was essentially a blowout.
“They really overwhelmed us,” La Salle coach John Giannini said. “It took us a half to adjust to the level they were playing at. I thought the second half was pretty evenly played, but they just had too big a lead. We couldn’t get it down to single digits.”
The Explorers had only a faint hope, using a 10-0 run early in the second half to close to 44-32. They got to within 11 as late as the midway point of the half, but Wichita State picked off big rebounds and made key shots down the stretch.
“Any good team is going to make a run,” Wichita State guard Malcolm Armstead said. “It’s just a matter of being able to sustain the run, so we knew we had to stay focused. The game wasn’t going to be over until the clock said 0.0.”
Eventually, it did. But the Shockers (29-8) did some of their best work long before the final second ticked off.
They got off to a 17-3 lead, in part because forward Carl Hall scored 10 of his team’s first 14 points. They held La Salle to one basket over the first 7½ minutes, and they played tight defense in the lane, forcing the Explorers (24-10) to shoot from the outside.
It paid off. La Salle made just 8 of 30 attempts in the first half and shot 35.7 percent for the game. Guard Ramon Galloway, who scored 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting in a third-round win over Ole Miss, was just 4 of 15 against the Shockers. Reserve Tyrone Garland was 5 of 15.
At the same time, Wichita State pushed the ball inside to Hall, who converted 7 of 8 shots in the opening half. The Shockers also outscored La Salle 24-10 in the paint and held a 26-12 rebounding advantage.
“That was the game plan early on, to try and wear them down, pound it inside and get inside-out shots,” said Armstead, who had a game-high 18 points and 4 assists. “That’s what we came up with. That’s what happened.”
It almost looked too simple. La Salle seldom took a shot that wasn’t challenged or blocked. In one second-half sequence, in fact, the Shockers blocked three shot attempts in the lane on three separate possessions.
“They were all over the place,” Galloway said. “They came to play. I can honestly say, by far, (they were) one of the most physical teams we’ve played by far.
“They were after it. They won every 50-50 ball almost, and they got every rebound that they needed to get.”
Ohio State won’t be quite so easy. Shockers coach Gregg Marshall said afterward that he hadn’t yet had time to consider that matchup. He was too busy coming down from Thursday’s victory.
But a trip to the Final Four is close enough that his players can begin to envision it.
“We need one more win to seal this deal and go back home and get ready for the Final Four,” guard Ron Baker said. “I’m really excited for Saturday.”