Seton Hall’s Daryll Walker may have been the last of the nearly 17,000 people at McNichols Arena Saturday to figure out who was going to Seattle.
With just more than six minutes left in the Pirates’ game against Nevada Las Vegas, he looked at the scoreboard, then turned to teammate John Morton.
“Are we up by 19 points?”
“That’s when I knew we had it,” Walker said. “I had thought we were up by about five.”
They have had the gall to chant, “Final Four,” in their huddle since mid-January, and now the Pirates are finally on their way after an 84-61 blowout of UNLV in the West Regional final.
“They certainly whipped us good,” UNLV Coach Jerry Tarkanian said.
They whipped the Rebels so thoroughly that they beat UNLV at its own game, running and defense. They held UNLV to 30% shooting and only six fast-break points.
Two days earlier, Seton Hall had handed Indiana its worst loss in the Hoosiers’ storied National Collegiate Athletic Assn. tournament history.
Saturday, they did the same to UNLV, beating the Rebels by 23 points. UNLV’s worst previous NCAA loss was to Iowa in the second round last season, 104-86.
But Seton Hall is no Cinderella team. The Pirates have a 30-6 record, finished second in the Big East and were seeded third in the West Regional, one spot above UNLV, which finished the season at 29-8.
They were, however, a novice bunch of net-cutters.
Although they had won a few in-season tournaments--the Great Alaska Shootout, the Sugar Bowl tournament, the Seton Hall tip-off tournament--none of the players had won anything at Seton Hall that called for cutting a little cord.
“We always watched somebody else cut it down,” said Frantz Volcy, one of the substitutes who came in and helped secure the victory.
“I haven’t cut one since high school,” center Ramon Ramos said. “I almost forgot how to do it.”
For sixth-man Michael Cooper, who scored 10 points off the bench, it had been longer.
“I never cut down a net in my life,” he said.
This is a team that has been supremely confident, ever since Oct. 14, when Coach P.J. Carlesimo told his team they could be as good as they wanted.
“We told them they could win 39 games,” he said.
That is out of reach, but there will be a chance for as many as two more.
Should Georgetown and Syracuse win their regional final games today, it will mark the second time the Big East had had three teams in the Final Four. The last time was 1985, when Georgetown, Villanova, and St. John’s made it.
Carlesimo said he has been confident from the beginning.
“They genuinely are that good,” Carlesimo said. “But there are a lot of teams that good. Arizona’s that good. Vegas is that good. Any four of us could be going. We’re not that much better than them if we’re better at all.
They were better than UNLV Saturday, little doubt about that, and much of the credit goes to Andrew Gaze, the Australian Olympian whose idea of a great basketball championship is the Aussies’ Grand Final, not the Final Four.
The UNLV coaches told Stacey Augmon that Gaze was a great shooter, and Augmon duly noted it, as he often has before. “I knew he was great,” Augmon said. “But I didn’t know he was that great. . . . Usually when the coaches say that, he’s not that great.”
Augmon had shut down Sean Elliott in the Rebels’ upset of Arizona Thursday, but Gaze, no great shakes as an athlete, not only shot over him but drove past him.
He also held Augmon to eight points, only two in the second half.
Seton Hall led by four at halftime and seven early in the second half but the Pirates let UNLV back in it at 47-45, after David Butler scored off an offensive rebound with 14 minutes left to play.
But then Gaze hit one of his three three-pointers, and followed up by eluding Augmon with an angling, leaning jumper for two more of his 19 points. That was the start of a 14-0 run that would stretch into a 29-6 run that buried the Rebels.
“It seemed like we ran out of gas,” Tarkanian said. “We had nothing left. We quit getting back on defense and quit getting offensive rebounds. . . . Seton Hall played a great ballgame. They thoroughly outplayed us.”
Greg Anthony, the Rebel point guard who had been doubtful for the game with a sprained ankle, started and played 31 minutes, scoring 16 points. Only one other Rebel scored in double figures--Butler with 15.
Anderson Hunt, whose three-pointer sank Arizona, went one for 12 and finished with seven points.
“Once we were up, they missed a couple of shots they might normally make and started taking some threes,” Carlesimo said. “Things snowballed.”