Tonight will be a historic basketball game in New Rochelle, NY between two proud longstanding Catholic basketball programs.
Santa Clara University is a Jesuit institution in the Silicon Valley region, the oldest university in California, located an hour south of San Francisco. As a student in the '70s at Providence, I remember coach Dave Gavitt talking with great respect about taking his team to San Francisco to play Santa Clara in a December tournament at the "Cow Palace" arena, site of the 1960 NCAA Final Four, reminding his players to be ready for a tough game.
This time the Broncos are 23-14 on the year, led by guard Kevin Foster who scored 35 points and Troy Payne who added 15 points in Santa Clara's semifinal win over Southern Methodist in Dallas Friday night.
Iona, administered by the Christian Brothers is 25-11, has won 12 of their last 13 games, and has seen their RPI ranking among all 345 Division I teams drop to as low as No. 68 from realtimerpi.com/. Their early season home win over NCAA Round of 16 participant Richmond has helped. Juniors Mike Glover the 6'6", 215-pound power forward and junior point guard Scott Machado earned all Metro Atlantic Conference First team honors as well as both earning places on the Mid-Major All-Star team.
For Iona fans, many of whom go back to the era of the late '70s, early '80s when coach Jim Valvano and center Jeff Ruland brought the program to wins over Louisville at Madison Square Garden and in the NCAA Tournament, it is a night to savor. Perhaps a once in a lifetime opportunity to watch their team play for a national title in their own gym on North Avenue in New Rochelle, 30 minutes from Broadway in New York City.
After practice Monday, I had a chance to chat with Iona player Scott Machado and head coach Tim Cluess.
Talking with Iona Junior point guard Scott Machado from Queens, New York:
How tough a game was it to win at East Tennessee?
SM: Yes, it was a game of runs, we threw the first punch, we went up 12-0. Then they came back with a punch of their own, and started a run, and all of a sudden we knew were down 10, 30-20. The we go into halftime, the coach told us we had to start playing defense, and once we started playing defense, they could not really stop us. So once we started playing defense, we started scoring again. Once we started making our shots, and getting stops, then game kind of came to us. It was a hard fought game.
You and Mike Glover Connected near the end of the game on a clutch "Alley-Oop" play at end of game, tell us about that?
SM: I saw Glove, (Mike Glover) going back door and the man that was guarding him on that side of the zone was going out more to the shooter, and Sean (Armand) was on that side. So Me and Glove just connected eyes, and I drove the lane to make sure everybody drew their attention on me and as he went back door; then I put the ball up.
What did you learn in the St. Peter's game that you can take to game Wednesday night?
SM: To come out comfortable, not to come out timid. It is like a regular game, just a lot more energy, a lot more on the line. We just have to play basketball like we play every other game, that is it really, just come out ready to play, not timid.
How is it been to play four postseason games?
SM: It is a blessing, we love it, It feels great to keep on winning and to end the season on a win is even better.
You look like an instinctive player, do you prefer to make the plays yourself, or take the play the coach suggests?
SM: I like to create myself, but I can do both, but I'd rather create myself.
Sometimes I see you look one way and pass the other way?
SM: Yes, trying to get the defenders off their feet.
How does your school work go at Iona? What is your major?
SM: School is going great. Iona shows me a lot of love; they make me feel right at home. I'm a marketing major.
What are your thoughts about playing Santa Clara?
SM: Just playing our game, getting stops early. As we saw in our last championship game, Saint Peter's beat us by played defense, and if we play defense this game, and we get stops in, hold the team down from scoring as many as they want, and we just score the ball, we will be fine.
Thank you so much and our best wishes for Wednesday night.
SM: Thank you.
Talking with Iona head coach Tim Cluess:
Tell us about the semifinal game Saturday at East Tennessee?
TC: Yes, they are a very, very good team. It was a game of runs; we started off with an early run. Mike Glover has his back go out on him and Rashon Dwight got in foul trouble, so we had to take both of them out. That lead to an ETSU run, they went on a 28-4 run on us. Then we out score them from that point by 20 points over next 10 or 15 minutes of the game. Then it went down to the wire, and we held on, our guys really fought hard. Rashon Dwight and Alejo Rodriquez were both injured in that game. We were playing everyone off the bench giving us minutes off the bench.
On the injuries you mentioned, will everyone be ready for Wednesday night?
TC: Mike Glover is good, Alejo Rodriquez hurt his hip but he looks like he is ok, Rashon Dwight is day to day.
Can you tell us about the last minute of the game?
TC: In the last minute, we were up three points, when we got a rebound at the other end and Scott (Machado) was caught on a very questionable offensive foul, which gave the ball back to them. They scored with about 10 seconds to go. Out of the timeout, we talked about what to run, the kids did a real good job of moving the ball quickly so it took time for them to foul us, it knocked six seconds off the clock, we got it to four when Trinity was fouled and Trinity stepped up and made two huge foul shots. We put a little three-quarter court pressure on them, they took a shot from around midcourt, which thankfully did not go in.
How has the team developed during the course of the season?
TC: They are a whole different team from where we were early in the season. Early on we had a tremendous number of injuries. Our guys never had a chance to really get a good feel for each other, or get a good feel for our system, or us to get a feel of them, because there were so many guys out early on. But they just fought every single day to improve. No matter what happened to them, on the court, off the court, they kept fighting back. So when hit stretch in January when we lost four really close games, it would have been easy to say we have given it all we have and that is who we are. Their hard work is the reason we are still playing today.
Why have forward Mike Glover and point guard Scott Machado played so well together this year?
TC: They just play well together. Scott makes Mike better and Mike makes Scott play better. All our players benefit by the two of them draw attention so it gives them open opportunities as well. As a team it really has fit well, Mike and Scott have been the catalyst in a good deal of our games but other players have really stepped up and done a huge job helping us win. Our whole team, so it is a very good combination.
What have you learned or been surprised by in your first year of Division I coaching?
TC: Not many surprises, it is the same philosophy we have always had, just work hard, get better as a team, try to play the best basketball at the end of the year, certain goals we have always had as teams, we had as a team this year. I think coaching basketball is coaching basketball.
Your thoughts on preparing for Santa Clara?
TC: A very, very good basketball team. They have two of guards who can really, really fill it up, they have a bunch of "bigs" who can score inside/outside. They have good depth and run a good system. They are coached by Kerry Keating, who does a great job. His father was a coach on Long Island many years ago; his dad actually recruited me. So I go back a long way with that family. We are going to need our fan support to help us battle in this one.
We wish everyone a great night on Wednesday.
TC: Thank you very much.
So there you have it, a historic college basketball night coming up in New Rochelle, NY. Perhaps a once in a lifetime opportunity for Iona fans to cheer a national championship game on their home floor. Perhaps college athletics at its essence, a chance to play for a trophy, a banner and lasting memories for the players, coaches and fans.
Ken Kraetzer reports on Iona basketball and West Point football for WVOX 1460 AM and WVOX.com He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org.