A sentimental homecoming for Oklahoma forward Khadeem Lattin took on added emotional overtones shortly after the Sooners arrived at their hotel Wednesday night.
That is when Lattin, a Houston native, learned that his grandmother had died of lung cancer. Brenda Fair had hoped to watch her grandson play in Saturday’s matchup against Villanova in NRG Stadium. Now, she will inspire her grandson in efforts to do something that his grandfather, David Lattin, achieved 50 years ago as part of the 1966 national championship team at Texas Western (now UTEP).
“I was sad. I didn’t sleep a lot,” said Khadeem Lattin, who received the news in a late-night phone call from his father, Cliff Lattin, the son of David and Brenda. “But now, you have got to win for Grandma.”
Saturday’s activities at NRG Stadium include a public recognition of Texas Western’s championship team on the 50th anniversary of its title. Khadeem Lattin said he will feel his grandmother’s emotional presence, along with his grandfather’s physical presence, when he takes the floor Saturday in efforts to help OU (29-7) reach Monday’s championship game.
“She’s a spirit now. She has my back, no matter what,” said Lattin, whose last contact with his grandmother came when Brenda Fair texted him after Saturday’s 80-68 victory in Anaheim, Calif., to seal a trip to Houston.
“After the Elite Eight game, she texted me. She said, ‘Congratulations. I love you, baby,’ ” Lattin said. “I’m just going to pray and know that she’s watching out for me. It’s tough. But she’s going to watch me play.”
Asked how he plans to deal with his emotions, Lattin said: “It’s one of those things you have to compartmentalize. So you’ve just got to be mature.”
Crediting the Aggies
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim watched his team rally from a 15-point deficit during the final 9:33 to secure a 68-62 victory over Virginia in the Elite Eight.
Syracuse closed on a 25-4 run, causing one reporter to draw a similarity between the Orange’s comeback and Texas A&M’s rally from a 12-point deficit in the final 35 seconds to force overtime in its eventual 92-88 victory over Northern Iowa in double overtime.
The Aggies’ rally marked the largest final-minute deficit overcome in Division I basketball history.
Boeheim playfully objected to the comparison.
“I wouldn’t compare our comeback to Texas A&M,” Boeheim said. “I couldn’t compare anything to that. That’s incomparable.”
Villanova players, along with coach Jay Wright, relish the opportunity for a Final Four rematch after falling to Oklahoma 78-55 on Dec. 7.
The Wildcats (33-5) shot only 31.7 percent from the field in that contest (20-of-63), including a 4-for-32 effort from beyond the arc, while watching Oklahoma’s skilled perimeter shooters make 14-of-26 3-point attempts (53.8 percent).
“When we played them the first time, we didn’t realize how good all the guys were offensively. What we recognized was how great that team was defensively,” Wright said.
Daniel Ochefu, a senior forward, said: “We had a lot of young guys playing that game that didn’t really understand what Villanova basketball is about. But at this point in the year, they all understand what it is about.”
NCAA admits mistake
NCAA officials announced Thursday that a staff member “mistakenly sent a text” to a South Carolina administrator on Selection Sunday that was intended only for schools that received invitations to this year’s tournament.
The Gamecocks did not, but the congratulatory e-mail to the unnamed school official triggered an apology from Dan Gavitt, NCAA vice-president of men’s basketball championships.
North Carolina coach Roy Williams took exception to a recent Washington Post article that suggested he was experiencing health problems and might be nearing the end of his coaching tenure.
Williams, 65, said: “I’ve got a head cold right now, a sinus infection. I’ve got two bum knees, and never felt better in my life than I feel right now … When I quit, it will not be because of anything that happens this weekend.”
Oklahoma vs. Villanova, 5:09 p.m., TBS
Syracuse vs. North Carolina, 7:49 p.m., TBS