If Sampson has rarely had elite talent, he has consistently built winners around hard-nosed ballplayers who build a fortress around the basket they are defending. In his 27 previous seasons as a head coach — at Washington State, Oklahoma, Indiana and Houston — that had been good enough to regularly reach the N.C.A.A. tournament but for just one trip to the Final Four, in 2002 with Oklahoma. The backcourt pair from that team — Hollis Price and Quannas White — are on his staff with the Cougars.
They were surely nodding with approval on Monday night as the Cougars took space away from Oregon State’s floor full of shooters, leaving them flustered. Price and White had to be particularly pleased with DeJon Jarreau, a sinewy 6-foot-5 guard who, like them, is from New Orleans.
A transfer from Massachusetts who spent a year at a community college, Jarreau had 10 points, 8 assists and 8 rebounds, but his best work may have been on defense. He was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. He badgered Ethan Thompson, who had scored 48 points in the previous two games and had been particularly adept at getting to the free-throw line, where he had made 25 of 26 shots in the tournament. On Monday, Thompson was limited to 11 points, though he contributed 7 rebounds and 6 assists to fuel Oregon State’s late charge.
“Man, it’s like a dream come true,” said Jarreau, who is at his third school with his best friend, reserve forward Brison Gresham. “Growing up, watching the Final Four, watching college basketball, you always think about getting to this point, seeing former players on TV do this. Like I said, as a kid, I’m watching TV growing up, and I’m like I hope I’ll be here one day, and man, I’m really here.”
There were similar sentiments when Baylor clinched its berth just after midnight.
As Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” blared, players bounced around the court, hugged and mugged for selfies, and eventually took turns snipping the nets from the rims.
But in this pandemic season, it was a markedly different celebration. There were only several hundred Baylor fans there to share in the merrymaking, and the traditional confetti shower was a do-it-yourself exercise. The Bears grabbed handfuls from a bucket and tossed them in the air.
As the confetti fluttered down, a portion of the court recalled those days in the Southwest Conference, for it was awash in green.