March 25, 2006
ATLANTA (AP) - With a trip to the Final Four at stake, LSU's baby Tigers turned to the biggest Baby of all.
Glen Davis found a clearing at the top of the arc, lifted his hefty body off the court and softly spun the ball toward the hoop.
His only 3-pointer of the NCAA tournament hit nothing but net.
The portly but nimble player known as "Big Baby" scored 26 points, including the decisive shot in overtime, to lead LSU to its first Final Four since 1986 with a 70-60 victory over Texas in the Atlanta Regional final Saturday.
"It's called thinking without thinking," he said. "The opportunity was there to make the shot. Most of the time when I'm shooting 3s, I'm thinking about it too much. I was just in rhythm, I felt it was a great shot and I made it."
Freshman Tyrus Thomas added 21 points and 13 rebounds. Like Davis, he's a homegrown Tiger, raised practically in the shadow of the LSU campus.
When the horn sounded, Davis marched to the front of the press table, faced the gold-and-purple-clad contingent and saluted. Then he let out a huge scream, pounded his massive chest and was mobbed by Thomas, who was named the region's most outstanding player.
The final margin wasn't indicative of a game that was close all the way. The lead changed hands 11 times, and there were seven ties. No one had a double-digit lead until the end.
But No. 2 seed Texas (30-7), which was trying to become the first Division I school to win national titles in football and men's basketball in the same academic year, fell apart in OT. The Longhorns were down seven by the time they got off their first shot of the extra period.
Fourth-seeded LSU (27-8) turned to Davis - the Southeastern Conference player of the year - to finish off Texas. The 6-foot-9, 300-plus-pound sophomore does most of his work bangin' on the inside, but he stepped outside to make just his sixth 3-pointer of the season.
"He's got such a feathery touch," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "He's physical, but it's his skill that really impresses you."
The Tigers led 59-52, and Texas never got closer than five the rest of the way.
"When Glen hit the 3, that was the turning point," said Darrel Mitchell, the only senior in the youthful LSU lineup.
Indeed, Davis' nickname is most appropriate for this group, which includes three freshmen starters. Most of them have known each other since they were kids. They grew up together, went off to school together and now they're heading to the Final Four together.
"We're like brothers," Mitchell said. "Brotherhood and togetherness."
LSU, which has never won a national title, will face UCLA next Saturday in the national semifinals.
In regulation, Davis hit a soft, turnaround jumper in the lane just before the shot clock expired to give the Tigers a 52-49 lead with 1:04 remaining.
"Big Baby, he's just a load down there," said Texas forward Brad Buckman, who spent part of the game guarding Davis. "Some of his moves are incredible."
Texas tied it after a wild sequence that epitomized the frenetic pace of the game, which was sloppy at times but thrilling all the way.
P.J. Tucker's hook was blocked by Thomas, but Tucker chased the ball down in the corner. He passed off to Kenton Paulino, the hero of Thursday's victory over West Virginia, but he missed a jumper.
Two LSU players failed to corral the loose ball near midcourt and Paulino got it back, only to have his jumper swatted away from behind by Garrett Temple. The ball went Texas' way again - right to Daniel Gibson, who made the tying 3 with 32 seconds left.
LSU squandered three chances to win in regulation. Davis had a mental blunder, firing up a wild 3 off an inbounds pass that didn't hit anything. Thomas got the rebound, but his baseline jumper was blocked by LaMarcus Aldridge. The ball deflected off the back of the goal, giving the Tigers one more opportunity.
They swung the ball around to Temple, but his open jumper from behind the arc barely hit the rim before time ran out.
LSU bounced right back from that disappointment. The Tigers won the jump and Tasmin Mitchell scored on a lay-in. Texas turned the ball over, and Temple scored off a double-pumping banker from beneath the hoop. The Longhorns threw the ball away again, and Davis clinched it.
Texas, which dominated the lane in its buzzer-beating win over the Mountaineers, faced a much more physical team in LSU. The Longhorns were outscored by an astonishing 38-10 in the lane and had only a slight edge on the boards, 45-42.
Texas couldn't overcome poor games by its two leading scorers. Tucker was held to 10 points on 4-of-11 shooting. Aldridge, a 6-10 center, was dominated in the head-to-head matchup with Davis, making only 2-of-14 shots to finish with four points.
"It's tough when your big man can't score," Tucker said. "He just missed them, but he kept playing."
Gibson led the Longhorns with 15 points and the unheralded Buckman chipped in with 13. Paulino, who beat West Virginia with a 3-pointer, went 0-for-5 from outside the arc this time, settling for 10 points.
Overall, Texas made 21-of-69 from the field - a dismal 30.4 percent. Barnes credited LSU's defense, which limited top-seeded Duke to its lowest point total since 1996 in a 62-54 upset Thursday.
The Tigers were equally stifling against the Longhorns.
"They turned in an outstanding defensive effort," Barnes said, "both inside and out."
When it was over, LSU gave the Georgia Dome a bit of Mardi Gras feel. Davis wrapped a feathery, gold boa around his neck, grabbed a microphone and let out a "Yeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaah!" that he hoped could be heard all the way back in his home state, still recovering from Hurricane Katrina.
"I wanted to give a shout-out to the people of Louisiana," Davis said. "I wanted to give them some motivation ... give them a good feeling about their state."