Golden Eagles roll on both sides of the ball
Don't doubt Marquette. Get to know the Golden Eagles. At first glance, they don't exactly have all the hallmarks of an elite college basketball team. But in a wide open season, it's enough that they can play at the level required to make an elite NCAA tournament run.
After winning extremely late games during the tournament's opening weekend, winning two games by a combined five points, the third-seeded Golden Eagles dominated No. 2 Miami in the East Region semifinals 71-61 earning their first national quarterfinal since 2003.
Marquette coach Buzz Williams, in his third straight Sweet 16, interjected when a question was asked to his players about being ranked last among teams left by ESPN.com.
"We'll be dead last when we wake up on Saturday, too," William said. "I guess we'll be eighth out of eight."
No problem. Junior guard Vander Blue (14 points) was a second-team All-Big East selection. He could end up as the most outstanding player in the East Region. Unlike Marquette's first two games, Blue didn't wait until after halftime against the Hurricanes to find his way into the game, slicing through the gap to intercept Durand Scott's pass and fly in for a one-handed slam. He powered into the lane and converted a tough shot off the glass to complete an 8-0 run for a 12-4 lead that put the Hurricanes on their heels.
"If you were just to look at our roster, nobody would ever expect us to be an Elite Eight team," Blue said. "But that fuels our fire. ... Sooner or later, you have to give credit where credit is due."
Junior forward Jamil Wilson (16 points, eight rebounds, three blocks) came off the bench to introduce himself at both ends of the floor. Marquette's best 3-point shooter over the course of the full season, Wilson was 3-for-4 on attempts from the arc. But his domination of Scott inside was even more impressive, rejecting the Miami senior guard three times in the first half alone.
Six-foot-11 starting center Chris Otule (11 points) combined with big-bodied but surprisingly slick Davante Gardner (14 points), also off the bench, to shoot 10-for-16.
"I would say they're a very physical team," Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. "But more than physical they're efficient."
Sprinkle in a putback jam from senior transfer Trent Lockett (eight points, 11 rebounds) and the relentlessness of Williams, who barely needed to make his trademark encroachment onto the court itself. The Golden Eagles (26-8) forced one tough shot after another by the Hurricanes (29-7), who finished the first half shooting 1-for-11 from 3-point range with six field goals total.
When Miami tried to counter in the second half, Marquette answered with superior execution, shooting 65.2 percent (15-for-23) as they repeatedly broke the Hurricanes' pressure.
"Because of my path to this point," said Williams, in his fifth season, "I do have an edge, and I probably need to have better wisdom in how I handle that edge. But it's really delicate because our edge is why we win."