ATLANTA — Sister Jean and the Loyola Ramblers are headed to the Final Four.
This improbable NCAA tournament just took its craziest turn yet.
Ben Richardson scored 23 points and 11th-seeded Loyola romped to a 78-62 victory over Kansas State on Saturday night, capping off a remarkable run through the bracket-busting South Regional.
The Ramblers (32-5) matched the lowest-seeded team ever to reach the Final Four, joining LSU (1986), George Mason (2006) and VCU (2011). Those other three all lost in the national semifinals.
Loyola will face West Region winner Michigan in the national semifinals. The Wolverines turned back Florida State 58-54.
Don’t bet against Loyola, which emerged from a regional that produced a staggering array of upsets. The South became the first regional in the tournament history to have the top four seeds including overall No. 1 Virginia knocked out on the opening weekend.
In the end, it was the Ramblers cutting down the nets.
After three close calls, this one was downright easy.
“Final Four! Final Four!” the scarf-clad faithful from Chicago chanted as the final seconds ticked off.
Loyola continued to be inspired by its 98-year-old team chaplain, Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt, who led a prayer in the locker room before the game, then was pushed onto the court in her wheelchair to join the celebration when it was done. Joining the celebration were Jerry Harkness and other members of the Ramblers’ 1963 national championship team, which played one of the most socially significant games in college basketball history on its way to the title.
It was known as the “Game of Change,” matching the Ramblers and their mostly black roster against an all-white Mississippi State team at the height of the civil rights movement, setting up an even more significant contest three years later. Texas Western, with five African-American starters, defeated Kentucky in the national championship game.
Even with a title on their resume, this performance came out of nowhere. Loyola had not made the tournament since 1985 until they broke the drought by winning the Missouri Valley Conference.
Then, as if benefiting from some sort of divine intervention, the Ramblers won their first three tournament games by a total of four points.
Finally, with the Final Four on the line, they turned in a thoroughly dominating performance.
Kansas State was surrendering an average of 53.3 points per game in the NCAA tournament and had not allowed more than 59 in their first three games. Loyola went by that with more than 9 minutes to go, which was more than enough to hold off the Wildcats even when things got a little sloppy in the closing minutes.
Ramblers are headed to San Antonio next Saturday to meet Michigan. They will try to become the lowest-seeded team to win a national championship, a distinction held by Villanova’s eighth-seeded team in 1985.
Source: East Bay March Madness: Loyola-Chicago continues stunning run to Final Four