MINNEAPOLIS — Chris Beard loves all kinds of dogs. He once bought a little white fluffy one for his daughters at a pet store. Took it home. It whined a little. Turned out to be a great dog.
He also bought one from the Humane Society.
“Those are more street dogs,” Beard said. “They’ve got about 48 hours to live. They live with a little more urgency, and they understand accountability and discipline a little better. They’re fortunate. They’re not entitled. They were in the pound, man.
“So with all due respect to pet store dogs, I really prefer street dogs.”
Tough ones, just like his basketball team.
Three years after getting on a private plane to end his short-term stay as coach at UNLV, Beard has Texas Tech 40 minutes from its first national championship, the Red Raiders having bounced Michigan State 61-51 in the Final Four semifinals before 72,711 at U.S. Bank Stadium on Saturday.
Texas Tech (31-6) faces Virginia (34-3) on Monday for the chance to cut down the nets and make even more history than it already has, a journey that has included a level of defensive tenacity that aptly defines its coach.
He has a lot of bark in him, too.
“I have to give Chris a lot of credit,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. “I really appreciate how hard his guys played. The tougher team won.”
It was the same against Michigan in the Sweet 16 and Gonzaga in the Elite Eight. Texas Tech just clamped down on the Spartans, limiting them to 15 baskets. If they weren’t blocking shots, Texas Tech defenders were altering them.
The Spartans (32-7) rely heavily on Cassius Winston and Kenny Goins.
They were a combined 4 of 20 shooting.
Think about it: Texas Tech won despite the fact that its best offensive player, sophomore guard Jarrett Culver, scored 10 points on 3-of-12 shooting. It won because of its defensive pressure outside and physical play inside, because it forced 11 turnovers and only had seven, because it made 5 of 10 on 3s in the second half and the Spartans made 7 of 24 for the game.
Also, because of this: Nation, meet Matt Mooney.
The graduate transfer guard matched his season high with 22 points, and his three 3s midway through the second half allowed the Red Raiders to build a 13-point lead it would never relinquish.
“All dreams come to an end, but the (Texas Tech) defense was really physical and all over our post players,” Goins said. “They just packed the paint, and we didn’t respond the right way. They did their thing, and we didn’t play our brand of basketball. They hit shots when they had to. They stepped up.”
The news wasn’t all good for Texas Tech. Another graduate transfer, Tariq Evans, rolled his ankle, and his status is uncertain for Monday’s game.
Virginia is next
Now, Texas Tech opposes arguably the best team in college basketball this season, top-five nationally in offense and defense, still playing to erase that crushing defeat of last season, when Virginia became the first No. 1 seed in tournament history to lose to a 16.
Beard is pretty sure his team has earned this moment.
“I’ve only been the coach here three years, so while history is something you respect and study, when you’re in athletics and it’s a competition, it’s about the team at hand,” Beard said. “Why not us? We’ve got good players. We play in arguably the best league in the country in the (Big 12). We’re a good team. You’ve got to get fortunate to be here, and we did. I’m just looking forward to coaching these guys Monday night.”
If the street dogs can bark for 40 more minutes, Beard will climb a ladder and cut down a final strand of net.
Three years after getting on that private plane to leave Las Vegas, he is that close.
Woof, woof, is right.