SALT LAKE CITY -- John Brady's rebuilding project at LSU is going better than planned, thanks to an NBA-caliber sophomore and a gangly junior who has a way of delivering when the Tigers need him most.
Stromile Swift had 23 points and 10 rebounds and Brian Beshara came up with a big steal with just over a minute to play as LSU beat Texas 72-67 on Saturday in the second round of the NCAA West Regional.
Torris Bright and Jabari Smith scored 11 points each for LSU, which will face Wisconsin on Thursday in the regional semifinals in Albuquerque, N.M. The eighth-seeded Badgers beat top-seeded Arizona 66-59.
"There's not a better story in college basketball this year than LSU," Brady said. "Now, maybe nationally, people will recognize what we've been through and what these young people have done."
It was tied at 60 at the three-minute mark, but the fourth-seeded Tigers (28-5) scored the next six points to seize control.
Bright split the Texas defense for a layup, Swift scored over Texas' Gabe Muoneke, and Beshara made two big free throws after intercepting a pass in the Longhorns' backcourt.
"I saw they threw a bounce pass, and it gave me an extra second to get over," Beshara said. "Then I knew if I hit those shots, it would be a two-possession game. I knew I couldn't let my teammates down."
Ivan Wagner led fifth-seeded Texas (24-9) with 19 points, hitting 5-of-7 from 3-point range. The Longhorns also got 11 points each from Muoneke and All-American center Chris Mihm, who had 11 rebounds but committed five turnovers.
One month ago, Brady was hopeful the Tigers could reach the NIT. Now, they're back in the round of 16 for the first time since 1987 after winning 12 of their last 13 games.
Most schools have 13 scholarships, but Brady only has nine because of NCAA sanctions imposed in connection with cash payments to players and other violations during the tenure of former LSU coach Dale Brown.
"We're not through yet," Brady promised. "We've got some more things to accomplish."
Wagner pulled the Longhorns within three at 70-67 on a 3-pointer with 18.4 seconds left, but LSU's Jermaine Williams sealed the victory by hitting two free throws with 14.6 seconds to go.
Wagner missed a jumper in the closing seconds and the LSU bench celebrated when, after a scramble, Swift came away with the ball. At the final buzzer, Swift bounced the ball hard enough to hit the scoreboard above the court.
"It was a little bit of emotion. I was just happy," said Swift, an athletic 6-9 forward who has said he plans to return to Baton Rouge next fall instead of entering the NBA draft.
Swift was the biggest difference for LSU. He made a huge defensive play with 1:56 left, blocking Mihm's dunk attempt that would have tied it at 62.
"It's all about timing," Swift said. "He was on the rim, getting ready to put it down. I think I kind of surprised him. He didn't see me coming. I was on the other side of the basket."
That play produced cheers throughout the arena and groans on the Texas bench.
"Getting that shot blocked, they started getting all the loose balls," Mihm said. "It was frustrating."
The Tigers trailed 34-31 at halftime, but Swift scored 15 points in the second half. He also almost gave the Longhorns a chance to win by missing two free throws with 35.7 seconds remaining and LSU leading 69-64.
Muoneke got open underneath the Texas basket but Lamont Roland made a steal, then hit one of two free throws with 25.7 seconds left to make it 70-64.
"The game was there for us and we didn't go get it," Texas coach Rick Barnes said.
Beshara's steal was bigger, because it helped the Tigers cap the decisive run. He stepped in front of a bounce pass from Wagner to William Clay and broke for the LSU basket. He was fouled on a layup attempt and hit both shots.
On Thursday, Beshara's 3-pointer with 17.8 seconds remaining lifted the Tigers to a 64-61 victory over Southeast Missouri State.
"My first two years, we didn't even sniff the NCAAs," Beshara said. "Now that we're here, thank God I've made a few plays to help us win."
Mihm's grandmother died Tuesday, and he became sick with the flu after arriving in Salt Lake. He struggled, shooting 5-of-14, and his five turnovers included a three-second violation and three traveling calls.
"All those things that have happened the last couple of days have taken their toll on Chris, but we're not going to make excuses," Barnes said.
© 2016. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us