COACHES PREP FOR FI­NAL FOUR

At the Fi­nal Four, ev­ery­thing ratch­ets up: time, pres­sure and lit­tle things that be­come big like ticket de­mand.

The Tribune (SLO) - - Front Page - BY JOHN MAR­SHALL

Dick Bennett’s fin­ger­prints will be all over this year’s NCAA Tour­na­ment.

The for­mer long­time coach has ties to three of the four coaches in Min­neapo­lis this week, one by blood.

Bennett’s son, Tony, coaches Vir­ginia. Auburn coach Bruce Pearl used to coach against Bennett while at Wis­con­sin-Mil­wau­kee. Even bought one of Bennett’s video­tapes on de­fense. Michi­gan State coach Tom Izzo used to work Bennett’s camps.

In a Fi­nal Four where stingy de­fenses rule, it’s fit­ting Dick Bennett has such a strong con­nec­tion.

“His in­flu­ence on the game, maybe a lot of peo­ple don’t know about it, but in the coach­ing cir­cles has been huge,” Tony Bennett said Mon­day. “My dad, he’s an open book, as they say. He’s so hon­est. He just wants to help the game be­cause the game’s been so good to him.”

Dick Bennett’s coach­ing ca­reer spanned five decades, from his days as a fresh­man coach at West Bend High School in Wis­con­sin to lead­ing the Wis­con­sin Badgers to the 2000 Fi­nal Four.

Bennett’s calling card was his “pack line” de­fense, which his son has uti­lized and en­hanced to turn Vir­ginia into one of col­lege bas­ket­ball’s stingi­est teams.

Re­ly­ing on his dad’s de­fense and an im­proved of­fense, Vir­ginia bounced back from last year’s his­toric loss to No. 16 seed UMBC to reach the pro­gram’s first Fi­nal Four since 1984 this year.

Now that Bennett has fi­nally made it to the Fi­nal Four as a head coach – he was a stu­dent man­ager for the 2000 Wis­con­sin team – he will again turn to his dad for ad­vice, along with for­mer Badgers coach Bo Ryan.

“I’ve lis­tened to peo­ple and when I’ve ei­ther read some things or heard things coaches said, it seems like it’s the bal­ance of, you do have to en­joy it, but you do have to re­main fo­cused and pre­pare well be­cause you can get pulled in by so many dif­fer­ent obli­ga­tions,” Bennett said.

Bennett is not alone in feel­ing his way through the Fi­nal Four.

Out­side of Izzo, who’s mak­ing his eighth ap­pear­ance, none of the other coaches have led teams to this stage.

The three new coaches have been to the NCAA Tour­na­ment in pre­vi­ous years, so they know what to ex­pect from that stand­point.

But at the Fi­nal Four, ev­ery­thing ratch­ets up: de­mands on time, the pres­sure, the stage, the at­ten­tion, lit­tle things that be­come big like de­mand for tick­ets.

Pearl has a sim­ple plan for deal­ing with the whirl­wind: change noth­ing.

“My ap­proach is go­ing to try to be to just do what we do, keep it the same,” he said. “I just think the rou­tine that we try to keep, the pace we try to keep from when we prac­tice, the me­dia, the ho­tels – you know, you’re busy, and the kids are busy. You just kind of grind like you do all sea­son long.”

Texas Tech’s Chris Beard plans to fol­low the ex­am­ple set by the coach he’ll face Satur­day night: Izzo.

Through his days as a young as­sis­tant or small-school coach, Beard al­ways ad­mired the way Izzo handled him­self and ran his pro­gram. Beard would go watch Izzo’s teams at their open prac­tices when­ever the Spar­tans were in the Fi­nal Four and pat­terned his pro­gram af­ter Michi­gan State’s tough­ness un­der the man he calls an idol.

Beard chat­ted with Izzo once at an AAU tour­na­ment – “I’m sure he doesn’t re­mem­ber” – and was im­pressed by how ami­able he was to a coach he had never met be­fore. So when Beard saw he would be fac­ing Izzo’s Spar­tans, he picked up the phone Mon­day morn­ing.

“To­day talk­ing to him on the phone was just re­ally cool,” Beard said. “Peo­ple talk about Fi­nal Four mo­ments, and I’m sure there will be a bunch this week­end, but it’s pretty cool hav­ing a chance to talk to Coach Izzo. We have so much re­spect for his pro­gram.”

Izzo’s pre­vi­ous Fi­nal Four ex­pe­ri­ence should help him in the buildup to Satur­day’s game against Beard and the Red Raiders. He re­called the first year at the Fi­nal Four, in 1999, he was still deal­ing with tick­ets just be­fore tip-off and has learned through the years what to do and what not to do.

“I hope the ex­pe­ri­ence helps me on the aux­il­iary things and yet once the ball is thrown up, I don’t think it helps you as much as I’d like to think it would,” Izzo said.

MICHAEL CON­ROY AP

Vir­ginia coach Tony Bennett cel­e­brates af­ter de­feat­ing Pur­due 80-75 in over­time in the men’s NCAA Tour­na­ment col­lege bas­ket­ball South Re­gional fi­nal game Satur­day in Louisville, Ky.

Tom Izzo

Bruce Pearl

Chris Beard

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