ANAHEIM, CALIF. – The noise could have shattered a diamond. Texas Tech had just become the first team to qualify for the Final Four in Minneapolis, and so music blared in the team’s tiny locker room, blared so loud it sounded like a malfunctioning jet engine — except for this one distinguishable word repeated like a mantra, a goal, a destination:
That’s the title of a song by Lil Yachty, the refrain of which goes: “Cold like Minnesota,” which is where the Red Raiders will head this week after flash-freezing Gonzaga’s top-ranked offense. Texas Tech, owner of the nation’s best defense, held Gonzaga 19 points under its season scoring average while winning 75-69 at Honda Center on Saturday, earning the Raiders the West Region title and their first-ever trip to the Final Four.
“Defense” doesn’t seem to be the right word for Tech’s points-prevention strategy. Coach Chris Beard sends his players to attack opponents, to deflect or steal or block every offensive attempt. When Texas Tech plays at U.S. Bank Stadium, Mike Zimmer will be as likely to take notes as Richard Pitino.
“They’re really, really handsy on defense,” Gonzaga star Brandon Clarke said. “In the first half, I think I turned the ball over five times, something I’ve never done. I think five is my season high if not my career high, so props to them, really. They forced us to make passes or plays we probably shouldn’t have made.”
These are the games that make March Madness worth the screen time and couch indentations, games between teams and players you might not have cared about a month ago; games that make you want to learn the birthplace and back story of everyone involved.
If Gonzaga’s offense was the irresistible force and Texas Tech’s defense an immovable object, immovability won the day. Tech (30-6) forced nine turnovers in the first half but allowed Gonzaga (33-4) to make 13 of 26 shots.
At halftime, Beard demanded his players close the lane to Gonzaga stars Clarke and Rui Hachimura, and the Bulldogs made only 12 of 33 second-half shots.
“We don’t want to play slow, you know, but we want to control the tempo and take shots and play March basketball,” Tech guard Matt Mooney said.
Beard looked down the dais. “Thank you for saying that, Matt,” he said. “The ‘slow’ stuff is killing us in recruiting.”
Know what helps in recruiting? Taking a program to its first Elite Eight in your second season, and its first Final Four in your third. Beard’s current star, Jarrett Culver, is from Lubbock. Beard’s recruiting reach should grow well beyond the city limits after his performance in this tournament.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few made playing against Tech sound like going to a sadistic dentist.
“It’s something you have to experience,” Few said of the Red Raiders defense. “We had one day [to prepare]. … They are really good at reaching, poking and digging things outta there. This is the best team I’ve ever had for taking care of the ball.
“We’ve had games with four turnovers, three turnovers, which is unheard of — halves with zero turnovers. So, it’s real. That defense is real, and Chris has done a great job with it and it definitely impacted us [Saturday].”
In the Tech locker room, forward Tariq Owens took his turn with the West Region championship trophy and called his teammates “street dogs. Everyone in this room will make the sacrifice, stick their nose in to get every loose ball.”
Gonzaga led by two points at the half and by one with 12 minutes remaining. Bulldogs point guard Josh Perkins made a three-pointer to tie it at 58 with about five minutes left, setting up the kind of late-game drama that has made the tournament famous.
Clarke made two free throws to cut the lead to 63-60 with 2:10 remaining. On the next possession, Tech point guard Davide Moretti — whose family flew from Italy to see him in Anaheim — drained a three-pointer, and the Red Raiders were on their way north, to a place they know only from songs.
“Never been there,” Culver said. “Looking forward to it.”
Jim Souhan’s podcast can be heard at TalkNorth.com. Twitter: @SouhanStrib E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org