LEXINGTON, Ky. -- How appropriate that the specialty of coach Larry Eustachy's Colorado State basketball team is rebounding. By definition, a rebound involves taking control after a misfire and starting over.
That is the trajectory of Eustachy's career, which was hardscrabble to start and which required a serious rebound after he lost his job at Iowa State because of a drinking problem. Now, he downs gallons of Diet Coke and he coaxes a team of overachievers to grab every loose ball they see.
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The result was obvious in the late NCAA Tournament game here Thursday night, when the Rams outrebounded Missouri, 42-19. With that 84-72 win, Colorado State advanced to a meeting with the overall No. 1 seed, Louisville, Saturday evening at Rupp Arena in front of a crowd that will be ardently pro-Louisville.
Colorado State's players are no more bothered by that than they had been by the scouting report on the coach who took over before this season.
"We knew a little bit. What we focused on when we heard coach was coming to CSU was the success he's had, everywhere he has been. You can't argue with success," said Pierce Hornung, a senior and one of the big rebounders. "That's what we looked at. He was very upfront and honest from the get-go about his past, but all we care about is the fact that he's a great coach. Early on, we bought in to what he was telling us."
Dorian Green, the high-scoring guard, said that Eustachy brought exactly what this team needed. "Coach brings a big sense of toughness, both physically and mentally," he said. "Defensively, we're way better than we were last year. Rebounding the ball, we're one of the best in the country at doing that."
Eustachy is tough, yet humble. He considers himself fortunate for this chance, having spent eight seasons at Southern Mississippi following a year out of coaching after leaving Iowa State. Before that, he had been at Idaho and Utah State, scrambling to move up. In his view, he has been scrapping since he was in high school in southern California,.
"My dad sold cars," he said. "I got cut from a Division II team in college. So I've played about every role on a team and I think that's helped me in coaching. I haven't had a golden path, you know. I had to wait tables to be a at Mississippi State. So I 'get' these guys and they 'get' me. We've got a bunch of guys that have faced adversity and kind of all come together, and it would be disappointing if we don't leave our best on the court, whether it's a win or a loss."