MINNEAPOLIS — For anyone who craves free-flowing play and offensive flash, the last weekend of this college basketball season forever will be known as the Final Bore. Texas Tech and Virginia have reached the national championship game by stifling creativity, not displaying it.
For which they offer no apologies, by the way.
“It’s human nature. Everybody wants to see the dunks, the threes, the big plays like that,” Texas Tech standout Jarrett Culver said. “We see the diving plays, the charges [taken], the blocked shots. We see big plays like that for our team. Yes, there is beauty in defense.”
Beauty lies in the eyes of a nation of beholders, though, and it remains to be seen how excited television viewers will be at 9:20 p.m. Monday to watch Defense vs. Defense.
That was not a concern for either team on Sunday, not in the least. Their reply to any and all criticism of their style is this: It works.
“I think at all levels, not many teams advance without being strong defensively, even in the NBA,” said Virginia coach Tony Bennett, a former reserve point guard in the pros. “That’s what I knew and I’ve seen it work and be successful.”
His counterpart, Chris Beard, told reporters at a news conference that he wishes someone would take the time to study how well his team has scored in the last month. Fat chance.
He laughed at the ensuing give-and-take. The two teams are what they are. They are different, though. Virginia controls pace. Texas Tech controls flow.
“They do a good job of keeping the ball in front of them, not letting a lot of things get into the paint,” Texas Tech big man Norense Odiase said. “We do a good job of keeping teams on the side, frustrating them, getting them out of their actions. I don’t know if that’s similar or not, but we do a good job of taking opponents out of what they want to do. So we know it will be a good battle Monday night.”
Not that either lacks pizzazz. Virginia’s De’Andre Hunter and Tech’s Culver are considered NBA-caliber talents. Matt Mooney of Texas Tech torched Michigan State with three-point shooting in Saturday’s semifinal; Kyle Guy and Ty Jerome fuel Virginia with their outside shooting.
It is just that each team is built on a foundation of bricks — the ones they induce opponents to shoot. Defense actually can be cool.
“It’s cool for us,” Virginia point guard Kihei Clark said. “Coach Bennett always preaches that defense will take us as far as we want to go. We want to win the ‘Natty’ so we’ll continue to play our defense.”
He added that Virginia fans have bought in: “When we get a stop or a shot-clock violation, they just erupt. It’s unlike any other fan base, I think.”
Said Hunter, “We’re going to play defense whether it’s cool or not. I feel like defense wins you games, and we’re showing that.”
For Odiase, it is the best part of basketball. “It’s just the pride, like in the park, one-on-one. If the guy can’t score on you, it makes you feel even better. And better and better every time,’’ the Texas Tech senior said. “You frustrate him and keep him out of what he wants to do, it brings a smile to my face.
“They say casual fans don’t like it, but real basketball people love defense. I do, and it’s been working for us.”
But honestly, does anyone want to sit in front of the TV and see a low-scoring game?
“Um, watching games, probably not,” Culver said. “Playing in them, you realize you’ve got to make stops. It’s brought us a long way.”