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How Sweet 16 it is

It will go down, quite simply, as the most memorable week in recent La Salle basketball history.

La Salle's Rohan Brown (35) and Taylor Dunn (5) celebrate after
defeating Mississippi 76-74 in a third-round game of the NCAA college
basketball tournament, Sunday, March 24, 2013, in Kansas City, Mo. (Charlie Riedel/AP)
La Salle's Rohan Brown (35) and Taylor Dunn (5) celebrate after defeating Mississippi 76-74 in a third-round game of the NCAA college basketball tournament, Sunday, March 24, 2013, in Kansas City, Mo. (Charlie Riedel/AP)Read more

KANSAS CITY - It will go down, quite simply, as the most memorable week in recent La Salle basketball history.

And seriously, there really hasn't even been a close second.

It started on Selection Sunday, when Dr. John Giannini allowed the cameras to be in the room with his team as they watched to learn their fate, knowing full well there was a chance they wouldn't get in. So the reaction when their name was finally called, on the last line of the bracket that it could have been, was priceless.

Three Philadelphia teams made the NCAA field. But the Explorers were easily the most huggable storyline. That's what happens when you accomplish something for the first time in a little over two decades.

On Wednesday, they won an NCAA Tournament game for the first time since 1990, in Dayton over Boise State as a 13 seed, something no Big 5 team had ever done before.

Then, on Friday, in a game that started 40 hours after their previous one ended, they beat fourth-seeded Kansas State here at the Sprint Center, which is 2 hours from the Wildcats' campus. But not before they saw a 19-point, first-half lead completely slip away. Somehow they found a way to advance, by two, on late free throws by a 60 percent foul shooter. And for the first time since they lost in the national title game at nearby Municipal Auditorium 58 years ago, the program had multiple NCAA victories in the same March.

Just like that, they were no longer merely part of the Madness. They'd become one of those endearing Cinderella headlines, even though they considered themselves anything but.

And after Temple was knocked out by Indiana on Sunday afternoon back in Dayton, it was left to La Salle to carry the flag for the city. So when was the last time the Explorers got to say that?

Now, they get to see if they can have an even better week. At this point, who knows? That's the magical attraction of it. Ask Florida Gulf Coast.

The Explorers (24-9) are going to the Sweet 16 of the West Regional on Thursday in Los Angeles. They got there by winning their third game in 5 days, 76-74 over 12th seed Mississippi (27-9), on a driving layup by senior guard Tyrone Garland with 2.5 seconds left. He called it a Southwest Philly Floater. It'll probably go down with John Smith's 4th and Shunk layup for Saint Joseph's in 1981 against DePaul.

See you on Rodeo Drive. Or is that Willshire Boulevard?

"That's what they call it in the playground," said Garland, a Bartram High product who originally went to Virginia Tech. "You hear that as you're growing up. I saw an opening."

But he had to go around and over 6-9 Reginald Buckner.

"The guy blocked me a couple of times [earlier]," Garland said. "I ain't scared of nobody."

Apparently, neither is this team, which was picked to finish seventh in the Atlantic 10.

Now it's the first Big 5 team to make it this far since Villanova did it 4 years ago en route to the Final Four. The Explorers are also the second team to win three in 5 days. VCU was the first, 2 years ago en route to the Final Four.

"The celebration [in the locker room] was insane," said sophomore center Jerrell Wright, the hero against K-State and the Explorers' only real big man since reserve Steve Zack was injured 2 weeks ago. "People were screaming. Even the assistant coaches were getting excited."

No team led by more than five in the second half. The Explorers, who trailed by five with just over 4 minutes to go, had tied it at 69 and gone ahead 72-71 on a three-pointer by Tyreek Duren. Ole Miss, which was bigger but slower and missed way too many free throws in the closing 10 minutes, went back in front on a follow by Buckner with 2:43 left. LaDarius White made one of two at the line to make it a two-point game at 1:58. But the Rebels wouldn't score again.

Garland missed the front end of a 1-and-1 at 1:33. But Duren, who played his best game of the postseason, made both ends at 1:07, tying it at 74. Ole Miss got called for a shot-clock violation on its possession, setting up the final shot, which became a Garland drive from the left wing through the lane to the right side of the rim and off glass.

Stop whenever you think you're dreaming. It's all very real.

Ramon Galloway finished with 24 points for La Salle, on 8-for-13 shooting. He was 6-for-10 from the arc, the last one coming early in the second half. Duren had 19, going 6-for-11. Garland had 17. Nobody will remember that he took 16 shots. Only the last one matters.

The animated Marshall Henderson led the Rebs with 21, but he needed as many shots to do so. It wasn't good enough.

Only five 13s had ever made it to the Sweet 16, with Ohio having done it just last year. None has been to an Elite Eight.

Ole Miss, which probably made the tourney by winning the SEC title game against Florida, was in the field for the first time since 2002.

Waiting for the Explorers on the left coast will be No. 9 Wichita State (28-8), which lost to Creighton in the Missouri Valley final. The Shockers, who did exactly that to top-ranked Gonzaga Saturday, have made it to the second week for the first time in 7 years. So how many do you think penciled in this matchup in their office pool?

The other half of the bracket is No. 2 Ohio State (28-7), the Big Ten champions, who got past No. 10 Iowa State on a late three-pointer to get this far for the fourth straight year, and No. 6 Arizona (27-7).

"The best thing about it is, our alums and basketball diehards saw great teams for years," Giannini said. "Now they can revisit that, on a national stage. These guys did it right before our eyes.

"This team has great intangibles. They're tough, they're together. And frankly, that's why we're here."

They're flying straight to LA. It'll be hard to top this, but that's why you play. And the Explorers are absolutely doing that.

"It feels like AAU [ball] all over," Galloway said. "You play, you sleep, you play another game. You find a way."

It's taking them to their third time zone. So by all means, ride on.