WASHINGTON -- Only last week, Buzz Williams said his Marquette team was just not that good at shooting. That just proves how much things can change in a week at this time of year, when everything in the NCAA Tournament gets progressively tougher.
What everyone saw Thursday night was that it is Marquette that is getting progressively tougher. Having squeaked out a couple of wins last week with its mental toughness, the No. 3 seed used both physical and mental toughness to grind down No. 2 seed Miami, 71-61, Thursday night. It officially was a 10-point game, but it had a 20-point feel the whole way.
By doing everything right and keeping Miami from doing much of anything that made it the class of the Atlantic Coast Conference, Marquette advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time in the reign of Williams, who runs a preseason boot camp that, his players say, gives them an edge.
"Buzz's code is 'Ring the bell every day,' '' Jamil Wilson said after scoring 16 points. "We just define toughness as being there every possession.''
Vander Blue, who had 14 points, said, "There's just something about this group of guys. It's so relentless.''
Marquette stifled point guard Shane Larkin, son of Baseball Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, making the whole Miami team look as if it had a no-hitter pitched against it. "They just had a game plan, and they executed that game plan to a 'T', '' Larkin said.
Miami coach Jim Larranaga said, "I think we all knew we just didn't have it tonight. We didn't have the juice you need to play great basketball.''
The opponent was much more juiced than it had been last weekend. On the plane heading to Lexington, Ky., for East Regional games, Williams' wife, Corey, began having severe abdominal pains. "Her appendix was about to burst,'' the coach said.
So he spent the whole first night in a hospital with her, after surgery performed at 2 a.m. "I've been in the delivery room, and my wife delivered all four children of ours naturally. I've never seen her in that sort of pain . . . She is tougher than all of us.''
That is saying something. The Golden Eagles were lucky against Davidson, but they wouldn't have been in position for a one-point victory had they not been tough. The same thing with a comeback two-point win over Butler last Saturday.
With Mrs. Williams here in the stands, Marquette was all over Miami on defense. Consider it Big East-caliber toughness. "I think getting whipped by Notre Dame got us re-centered,'' Williams said, referring to the Big East Tournament loss.
Williams said he makes no promises about how his team will play Saturday in its bid to reach the Final Four, but it is no secret that Marquette is gaining steam. "I think,'' the coach said, "we've had a pretty good March.''