La Salle says it's no Cinderella

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Ramon Galloway would like to send a message to the fans, media members and anyone else who might spend the next few days buzzing about the La Salle basketball team.

“We’re not Cinderella,” Galloway said. “We didn’t get lucky. This isn’t a fluke.”

Anyone who has watched the No. 13-seeded Explorers during the NCAA tournament would probably agree, and so would their opponents.

La Salle advanced to the Sweet 16 on Sunday with a 76-74 victory over Ole Miss at the Sprint Center, and it didn’t happen because of a lucky basket at the buzzer or an off night from its opponent.

The Explorers won because they took good shots, kept their poise and got key defensive stops in the game’s waning minutes. Tyrone Garland won it with a layup in traffic just before the final horn.

“Those are the things good teams do,” said Galloway, who scored a game-high 24 points. “This is Division I basketball. Everyone has great athletes with great skill. Look at Wichita State. They’re winning. Florida Gulf Coast is winning. We’re winning.

“This isn’t a fluke. We’ve thought all year that we could compete with anyone in the country. We just needed our shot.”

La Salle -- which defeated Boise State on Wednesday in the First Four before toppling No. 4 seed Kansas State and No. 12 seed Ole Miss -- advances to play Wichita State this weekend in the Sweet 16 in Los Angeles. The Shockers upset No. 1 seed Gonzaga on Saturday night.

Instead of returning to Philadelphia for a few days, the Explorers will head straight to California from Kansas City. In some ways, that’s unfortunate. Moments after returning to the locker room after Sunday’s win, La Salle players were scrolling through texts and tweets about the celebration that had ensued back on campus.

“Riots, signs, parties, people all out in the streets -- the whole bit,” guard Sam Mills said. “This is one of the craziest feelings we’ve had in our whole lives. We’d love to [travel] back and celebrate with them, but we’re not finished yet.

“We’re still on a mission.”

La Salle seemed like a rather unlikely Sweet 16 team a week ago. The Explorers posted a 24-9 record overall and an 11-5 mark in conference play. The NCAA tournament selection committee, however, showed a lot of respect toward the Atlantic 10 and rewarded the league with five bids.

The Explorers are the only ones to make it to the second weekend. Before last week, La Salle had won just one NCAA tournament game in 30 years and hadn’t earned a spot in the field since 1992.

Still, that’s not to say La Salle doesn’t have tradition. The best player in the program’s history is Lionel Simmons, who ranks third in the NCAA in career points (3,217). Simmons, who won the Wooden Award in 1990, was with the team in Kansas City over the weekend.

Moments after Garland’s shot, Simmons was on the court dancing and celebrating with Explorers players before joining them in the locker room, where the fun continued.

“I’m just an excited fan, an excited alumni,” Simmons said. “That’s the beauty of the NCAA tournament. Any team can beat anybody. If you play hard and give yourself a chance to win, anything can happen.”

Pleased as they were with the victory, La Salle didn’t seem close to satisfied after Sunday’s win. A victory over Wichita State this weekend would vault La Salle into the Elite Eight. Explorers coach John Giannini said a win in that game wouldn’t be an upset -- just as their first three wins weren’t.

“If I’d have told you at the beginning of the season,” a reporter asked Giannini, “that you’d be standing here now, with the Elite Eight as the next goal, what would you have told me?”

Giannini smiled.

“That it could happen,” he said. “There’s no parity [in college basketball this season]. Parity makes it sound like everyone is average. Everyone’s good. You know what Wichita State’s budget and facility and tradition is like? Why shouldn’t they be terrific?

“It’s not parity. Maybe no one is great the way Jordan and Perkins and Ewing were, but everybody is good.”