By Michelle Gardner
Cal Poly Pomona men’s basketball coach Greg Kamansky arrived at Honolulu International Airport Thursday morning a tired man. Most of his players were up all night too. No the group wasn’t up all night celebrating, although they had reason to do so after upsetting heavily favored Brigham Young-Hawaii 59-58 for the West Region championship late Wednesday night.
That win gives the Broncos a (23-7) berth in the Elite Eight which
starts next Wednesday at the Mass Mutual Center in Springfield, Mass. It will be the school’s third trip in Kamansky’s nine-year tenure.
The thought of playing for a national championship wasn’t far from their minds but there was something of more immediate concern – final exams. The players missed them earlier this week, so they’ll be taking them today after a long flight on little sleep.
“They’re completely exhausted,” Kamansky said. “We had guys up all night working on their laptops. Some of the guys were tutoring other guys. It would be nice if they could really enjoy this. ”
It has been a whirlwind week for the Broncos. And it isn’t quite
over. Their journey started out at Western Washington University a week ago where the resilient group turned back local rival Cal State San Bernardino (83-81 in overtime) on Friday, then beat Seattle Pacific (80-72) on Satuerday in the West Sub-region in Bellingham, Wash.
The Broncos left Seattle Monday to fly to Hawaii in preparation for Wednesday’s game. They arrived back in Southern California late Thursday but will be back on a plane to fly cross country on Sunday.
The rigorous travel schedule makes the run even more impressive.
Kamansky draws a lot of parallels between this run and the one his team made in 2003, its first trip to the Elite Eight. On that
occasion the Broncos won that berth by beating San Bernardino in double overtime.
“I can’t say one was better than another,” he said Thursday morning by phone just before catching the flight. “That was the first time we made it and it really put us on the map. I would say this one has been a little more improbable because of all we overcame to get to this point.”
The Broncos lost two key players before the season started and were down to as few as seven healthy players for one game. They were just 5-5 through the first round of CCAA play and had to run the table the last 10 games just to tie for the regular season conference title.
Wednesday’s foe also was a formidable one. The Seasiders (27-2) came in ranked third nationally and were playing on their home floor, the Cannon Activity Center, in front of a boisterous crowd of 4,200. And they hadn’t lost a game in two months.
The Seasiders like to push the tempo and came in averaging 92 points a game yet Cal Poly dictated the pace early and only trailed 28-23 at the half.
The home team led by as many as 15 points, that lead coming at 42-27 on a 3-pointer by West Region Player of the Year Lucas Alves with 13:57 to go.
The Broncos were still down by double digits late at 56-43 with 6:40 to play. But who would have thought the Seasiders would go the rest
of the game without a field goal.
The Broncos ended the game on a 16-2 run, finally taking their first lead of the contest at 57-56 on a pair of free throws by sophomore
forward Tobias Jahn with 51 seconds left. The Seasiders then battled back at their end with Alves nailing two free throws after a foul had
been called on Jahn with 34 seconds to go.
That set the stage for yet another dramatic finish. The Broncos moved the ball up court with superstar Larry Gordon doing much of the work.
He gave the ball up but got it back after two other passes. His first shot from close in was off the mark but he outhustled three Seasiders
for the ball and put the rebound up and in for the decisive points, sending the Cal Poly sideline into celebration with three seconds
Gordon, who tallied 74 points and 38 rebounds in three games, was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Jahn, who had 14
against the Seasiders, also was named to the All-Tournament team.
Gordon’s 15 rebounds Wednesday gave him 928 for his career, just seven behind career leader Paul Scranton (1963-66).
“We stayed just close enough,” Kamanasky said. “With seven minutes left I knew we just needed a little bit of a run to get us close. I
thought it would rejuvenate us and they might tighten up. That’s pretty much what happened. Our guys never quit.”
The weary Broncos won’t practice today but will do so on Saturday at Kellogg Gymnasium.
They will be the only team in the Elite Eight not nationally ranked. Their quarterfinal game will be against Central Region champion
Southwest Minnesota State (28-6), ranked No. 12 in the last NABC poll. Other matchups will pit No. 1 Findlay (Ohio) against No. 2 C.W.
Post, No. 5 Gannon (Penn.) against No. 6 Central Missouri and No. 4 Augusta State (Ga.) against No. 15 Christian Brothers (Tenn.).