AUSTIN, Texas — The biggest game of their lives is finally here.
The seminal moment for the Pacific mens basketball team will come at 11:10 a.m. today at the Frank Erwin Center when the 15th-seeded Tigers (22-12) tipoff their second round NCAA Tournament game against No. 2 Miami (27-6).
The Tigers will finally be dancing under the bright lights and hoping to capture their own piece of March Madness.
The Tigers are on a seven-game winning streak, but still a decided underdog against the Atlantic Coast Conference champions. Senior point guard Lorenzo McCloud had a simple message for his team during Pacifics press conference on Thursday.
We came here to win, said McCloud, Pacifics leading scorer (11.4). Its not like we just came here to play the game. We are here to win.
So how can they pull off a monumental upset and become the seventh No. 15 seed since 1985 to do it? Pacific coach Bob Thomason, in his 25th and final season, laid out a simple blueprint.
We have to do it as a team, Thomason said. I dont think our individuals will bother Miami too much, theyve played against Duke, North Carolina, all these teams with great players, so theyre used to all that.
Our team has to bother Miami. I really believe if you get your teammates to be better and youre looking out to help them all the time, the team could be really successful.
Pacific has been reliant on its shooting all season, making 49.8 percent of its shots in 22 victories and Thomason believes the Tigers will have to shoot it at least that well to have a chance.
Theyll also need to fight hard on defense and crash the boards, so Miamis superior athleticism doesnt overwhelm them. The Hurricanes feature three regulars on the frontline that are 6-10 or taller in seniors Kenny Kadji, Julian Gamble and Reggie Johnson.
Theyre big across the board and theyre pretty versatile, Pacific junior center Tony Gill said. We just have to match their toughness and be able to hopefully cause some sort of problems down low.
Coach Jim Larranaga led Miami to the best season in program history in his second season and has a senior-laden group that is augmented by superb sophomore point guard Shane Larkin.
Larranaga said his staff has spent time this week breaking down
Their team is very well-disciplined, Larranaga said. They run a lot of set plays and they execute those set plays to perfection. They play several different defenses and change them constantly, giving a different look throughout the contest. We have prepared our team for all those eventualities and well to need to play very, very well and execute our offensive and defensive game plan if we expect to move on.
Thomason wants to mix in some zone defense today, but worries about Pacific's ability to rebound out of those sets against a much bigger and more athletic team.
The Hurricanes like to get out in transition to maximize the talents of Larkin and senior wings Durand Scott and Trey McKinney Jones, so Pacific will have to minimize turnovers like they did while winning three games at the Big West Tournament last week.
Pacific had just 26 turnovers in wins over UC Santa Barbara, Cal Poly and UC Irvine.
Thomason has been dealing with the specter of coaching his last game for weeks now and said he would approach todays contest the same way hes coached all season.
I dont want to be thinking about losing, I dont want be anticipating winning, I just want to make sure our guys are all prepared, Thomason said. Every game with this team especially, I have a clear mind and I just coach the game. And if I can just trust myself, then maybe the players can trust themselves and well see how it works out.