Chris Beard, Texas Tech took hard road to first Final Four appearance

Greenberg: Chris Beard has made Texas Tech a perennial power (1:12)

Seth Greenberg is impressed by Chris Beard's coaching and how defense has become the calling card for the Red Raiders. (1:12)

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- After Texas Tech coach Chris Beard secured a trip to his school's first Final Four with a thrilling 75-69 win over Gonzaga in the Elite Eight on Saturday, he sprinted across the court and yelled, "Girls!"

Then, his three daughters -- Avery, Ella and Margo -- ran toward Beard and squeezed his neck.

"I just thanked them for believing in me when, you know, a lot of people didn't," Beard told ESPN after the game. "Coaching schools you never heard of. They've always been by my side."

He added, "And also my girlfriend, Randi, who's special. I appreciate this platform. You know, the girls are missing so much school here in this March Madness run. I just want to plea to [their schools and teachers] if you can work with the girls a little bit on their missed classes."

That scene seemed appropriate for the moments that unfolded months after voters in the Big 12's preseason poll predicted Texas Tech would finish seventh in the conference. The Red Raiders entered the season without three of the top four scorers from their Elite Eight team in 2018, including first-round pick Zhaire Smith. Not to mention the fact that they also had a coach who seemed to have been here, there and everywhere throughout his career.

But Texas Tech returned to make more history and earned a trip to Minneapolis, where it could become the most unlikely national champion since Connecticut 20 years ago.

The team's journey wasn't neatly stitched together like the paths of the blue bloods it'll have to plow through to win its first national title. The Red Raiders didn't add a recruiting class full of five-star talent. They lost some of the key pieces from a great team. They didn't have any one-and-dones.

The most intimidating guy on the team is Darryl Dora, a 6-foot-9 graduate assistant who played for the Red Raiders in the early 2000s.

Matt Mooney, a grad transfer from South Dakota who scored 17 points in Saturday's win over Gonzaga, starred in the one-bid Summit League a year ago. Tariq Owens, a shot-blocking savant at St. John's last season, transferred to the school in Lubbock, Texas, a year ago. Davide Moretti is a standout from Italy.

Jarrett Culver, a Lubbock native, was a three-star recruit who has blossomed into a projected top-10 pick in this summer's NBA draft.

"Unbelievable," Culver said after the game. "We're not supposed to be here, man. It's unbelievable. It's for sure a blessing."

And then there's Beard.

He has had 12 basketball jobs, beginning with his stint as a student manager at Texas in the early 1990s and including coaching stops at the Division II level and junior college.

He also coached the South Carolina Warriors in the American Basketball Association eight years ago. He had accepted the head-coaching job at UNLV in March 2016 after his Arkansas-Little Rock squad beat Purdue in the NCAA tournament -- then changed his mind less than three weeks later and returned to Texas Tech, where he previously had been an assistant for a decade.

He now has the Red Raiders playing some of the best defense we've seen in college basketball. The Bulldogs, whom Texas Tech held to just 0.97 points per possession on Saturday, had the most explosive offense in the game.

This season, Texas Tech battled Duke in a 69-58 loss at Madison Square Garden that ended its 10-game winning streak to open the season. It won a slice of the Big 12 regular-season championship. And it has lost once -- a weird 79-74 outing against West Virginia in the first round of the Big 12 tournament -- since Feb. 2.

"A lot has been made about us [being] the underdog and stuff like this," Beard said. "They're kinda disrespecting our guys. Jarrett Culver was the MVP of the Big 12 conference, and we won the regular-season share with Kansas State. Tariq's the all-time shot-blocker in the Big East at St. John's. Matt Mooney is one of the best offensive players in college basketball. We've got good players. We got good players. About half of our guys were in the Elite Eight last year and we lost a tough game to Villanova. ... I think it's kinda disrespecting our players. We've got good guys and we've had a great season to this point."

That's the vibe Texas Tech had after the game. Sure, the Red Raiders will come to Minneapolis as the outsider, the program without a brand name that matches that of the programs they'll likely meet in the Twin Cities. But they don't care. They know they're real.

And they've never cared about anything outside their own program.

That's why they held an offseason retreat in a remote location with limited cell phone service before the season. There, Beard told the players, returning and new, that they had to finish what they started with last season's Elite Eight run.

After Owens and Mooney, a pair of key transfers, reached campus, they didn't go to a movie or a party with the team.

"Mooney didn't want to go out," Culver said. "He wanted to go to the gym. That said a lot."

Now, they're all playing together for a shot at the title. This effective and destructive crew is equipped with the best defense in America, a first-round pick and a collection of talented players who seem ready for anyone.

Before reporters entered the Texas Tech locker room after the Gonzaga win, the team celebrated and danced to a song called "Minnesota" by Lil Yachty. It was a self-explanatory selection for a program that will take another shot at history in Minneapolis.

Dora, the massive grad assistant, carried towels and other items toward the team bus with the music blasting behind him. Before he disappeared down the hallway, however, he turned and looked at a group of folks huddling nearby.

"Remember," he said, "we're not supposed to be here."

But they are here.

And, it seems, nothing was ever going to stop this ambitious group from reaching its goal.

They're not here to crash the party.

They're here to make it their own.