Glimpses of March Madness
Top images from the first and second rounds of the men’s NCAA Tournament.
SAN ANTONIO - Some Texas A&M students wore paper bags over their heads during Acie Law’s freshman season, embarrassed to be rooting for a team that didn’t win a conference game.
Now, Aggies fans are decked out in maroon shirts, eager to be part of what Law and his teammates are doing.
For Memphis (32-3), the No. 2 seed in the NCAA South Regional, that means once again playing in front of a partisan crowd despite having a better seed.
“I would have never imagined playing in San Antonio with the Sweet 16 with the opportunity to go to the Elite Eight after what I experienced by freshman year,” Law said Wednesday. “Coach came in and he changed all our mindsets. He told us we were going to win, and not take as long as people thought.”
That’s exactly what the Aggies have done under Billy Gillispie, going from that 0-16 record in the Big 12 to the NCAA round of 16 and a school-record 27 victories only three seasons later.
And Texas A&M won’t be far from home Thursday night for its first regional semifinal game since 1980. The game will be in the Alamodome, only about a 2½-hour drive from campus.
When the Aggies finished their open practice, the players greeted and shook hands with fans, many who chanted Law’s name.
A crowd of more than 30,000 is expected Thursday, mostly in A&M colors. If the Aggies (27-6) win, there might not be another color visible for the regional final this weekend — much like when Texas won a regional final in the same building four years ago.
Memphis hasn’t been the Final Four since 1985, when its NCAA run included four straight victories in Texas. The Tigers’ 24-game winning streak is the nation’s longest, the last loss Dec. 20 at Arizona before their undefeated run through Conference USA.
The Aggies were in the same position for their second-round game last weekend as Memphis is in now. They had to beat Louisville at Rupp Arena in downtown Lexington, just more than an hour-long drive from the Cardinals’ campus.
“To do that, they deserve the opportunity” to play near home, coach John Calipari said. “It’s a disadvantage (for us), there’s no question.”
Beside the setting, Calipari sees other similarities to UCLA last year and the Aggies — who rank second nationally in field goal percentage defense (37.3 percent) and allow less than 60 points a game when their physical play.
“If you’re not sturdy, you’re going to be pushed into the cheerleaders and you’re going to have a pompom in your hand pretty fast,” Calipari said.
Joey Dorsey is still motivated by what happened against UCLA, when the 6-foot-9 Memphis forward had early foul trouble and was limited to only two points in 21 minutes. He still watches that tape, a physical game in which the referees didn’t blow many whistles.
“I felt like if I stayed in that game, we wouldn’t have lost,” Dorsey said.
When Calipari questioned his play during this year’s NCAA opener against North Texas, Dorsey promised his coach, “I’m going to get us there, we’re going to get to the Final Four.”
To get to Atlanta — which is at least in the same region of the country as Memphis — the Tigers first have to win twice in San Antonio. No. 1 seed Ohio State and Tennessee play in the other game Thursday night.
Memphis leading scorer Chris Douglas-Roberts (15.4 points a game), who sprained his ankle in Sunday’s victory over Nevada in New Orleans, took part in a private practice Wednesday. Calipari said he could play.
When Douglas-Roberts missed three straight games in January because of a sprained right ankle, Memphis won all of them by at least 13 points. But that was against UAB, East Carolina and Tulsa, not the same caliber as Texas A&M.
The Aggies have won 70 games for Gillispie, and only one of their six losses this season was by more than three points.
“He’s done a fabulous job, and I even told him,” Calipari said. “It’s one thing to change a culture, and it’s another thing to change it in a league that’s established. ... You’re fighting and scratching for everything.”
Army moved a “home” football game against Texas A&M to the Alamodome last fall. About 60,000 people, nearly all of them Aggies, filled the stadium to watch their struggling team.
“I hope they talk about it being the greatest home court advantage in the history of college basketball,” Gillispie said. “But we have to play against a really talented, well-coached team, and that’s going to determine the outcome of the game, not the crowd.”
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