Horn pointed out that starting forward Jeremy Evans fouled out against Drake on Saturday and the Hilltoppers overcame it. And he added that, at times, the team has played extended stretches without leading scorer and NBA draft candidate Courtney Lee, who has found himself in occasional foul trouble.
But none of it seems to shake these guys.
"We pride ourselves on having a deep bench," guard Tyrone Brazelton said. "They can come in and we won't miss a beat."
FAMILIAR FOES: They met in the unlikeliest of places: Anchorage, Ala., in the fall of 2001. It never crossed their minds then that they might one day coach against each other in the NCAA Tournament.
But here they are, Western Kentucky's Horn and San Diego coach Bill Grier, facing off with a trip to the round of 16 on the line. Their relationship began when they were assistants at Gonzaga (Grier) and Marquette (Horn) with their teams squaring off in the Great Alaska Shootout.
They've had a friendly relationship and held mutual admiration for one another since. But this was totally unexpected for both.
"We've been pretty good friends ever since and stayed in touch," Grier said. "Darrin and I actually talked earlier this year. I don't think either one of us expected to be here, but he's done a terrific job in his time (at Western Kentucky)."
Regarding Grier, Horn said, "What he's done in a league (West Coast Conference) that has been much improved, and especially at the top … I think has been nothing short of phenomenal and as good a coaching job as there has been in the country this year."
Western Kentucky's bench outscored the Drake reserves 28-3 in Friday's upset victory. The Hilltoppers' ability to play a bigger rotation of players could serve them well again against the San Diego team that had just two reserves play important roles. ¶ "I think our bench is huge," Western Kentucky coach Darrin Horn said. "I think it's one of the reasons for our success this year. Simply because our team has developed a confidence in each other that they don't feel like there's a lot of dropoff."
The seventh-seeded Hilltoppers made their last trip to the Sweet 16 with a victory over No. 2 seed Seton Hall in 1993. Western Kentucky's ride ended in the next round with a loss to Charlie Ward-led Florida State.
"I've seen it replayed several times now. The main thing that just stands out is just the amazing pass Tyrone (Brazelton) made. … Unselfish play and I can't say enough about that." — Guard Ty Rogers on his game-winning shot against Drake.
About the school
Located: Bowling Green, Ky.Enrollment: 19,000
Famous alumni: Former Kentucky Congressman Tim Lee Carter
No. Player Pos GP Min Pts Reb
1 Desire Gabou G 16 2.4 0.0 0.3
3 Tyrone Brazelton G 34 27.0 13.9 2.7
4 A.J. Slaughter G 34 18.9 7.7 2.2
5 Ty Rogers G 34 21.2 6.5 2.2
14 Adam Howard G 15 2.4 1.3 0.1
22 B.J.Frazier F 16 4.2 0.4 0.7
20 O. Mendez-Valdez G 34 19.3 5.9 1.7
21 Boris Siakam F 34 18.0 4.7 3.8
23 Mike Walker F 27 16.9 3.3 4.2
30 Steffphon Pettigrew G-F 34 11.6 4.0 2.9
31 Japeth Aguilar C 2 16.0 4.0 4.0
32 Courtney Lee G 34 29.6 20.2 4.7
35 D.J. Magley F 34 15.8 5.0 3.3
40 Jeremy Evans F 32 20.9 5.9 5.1
41 Matt Maresca F 19 3.2 0.6 0.4
Coach: Darrin HornRecord: 28-6
Usf coach stan heath says … : "Both teams are coming off exciting, thrilling, breathtaking victories, and the team that can focus on the next game emotionally has a huge advantage here. I think Western Kentucky has a little bit of an edge with their guards. Courtney Lee didn't have his A-game on Friday, and I think he'll step up and be the difference in this game. Don't count San Diego out, because they showed they have a lot of heart and a well-coached team."
Greg Auman, Times staff writer
The Toreros made their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament after closing the 1983-84 season in impressive fashion, winning their final five West Coast Conference games. They faced Princeton in the tournament, losing 65-56 at Philadelphia.
"My knees are real bad. I've got tendinitis, so it's always hurting. But being in the NCAA Tournament, you've got to play through it. You've got to be tough. I'll be ready." — Forward De'Jon Jackson on his physical condition.
About the school
Location: San Diego
Famous alumni: Boston Red Sox GM Theo Epstein (law school); Charlotte Bobcats coach Bernie Bickerstaff; Golden State Warriors coach Eric Musselman; Cleveland Cavaliers coach Mike Brown
No. Player Pos GP Min Pts Reb
1 Brandon Johnson G 33 34.8 16.9 4.1
3 Devin Ginty G 26 13.7 2.5 0.8
4 Nick Price G 4 1.5 0.0. 0.3
11 Trumaine Johnson G 33 25.6 5.5 1.3
12 Chris Lewis G 34 18.3 5.0 3.5
13 Danny Brown G 29 8.7 2.6 0.7
15 Ray Murdock F 14 22.9 5.9 3.1
21 Gyno Pomare C 34 28.4 13.7 7.4
22 Rob Jones F 33 25.7 8.8 5.8
23 De'Jon Jackson G 34 30.9 7.7 3.4
33 Clinton Houston F 29 7.8 1.0 1.7
42 Nathan Lozeau C 25 7.9 1.2 1.8
Coach: Bill GrierRecord: 22-13