It takes a bit of bravado for a backup junior forward to have a "bring it on" attitude over Syracuse's 2-3 fortress, especially after the way coach Jim Boeheim's team dominated Indiana on Thursday night, but Gardner had a standout game against the zone last month and can't wait for the rematch when the third-seeded Golden Eagles (26-8) face the fourth-seeded Orange (29-9) on Saturday with a berth in the Final Four on the line.
"I love playing against athletic guys," Gardner went on. "Because they think they can just stop me. But I use my weight to push them around."
The Big East is turning into the league that just won't die. Syracuse is leaving for the Atlantic Coast Conference in the fall, and Marquette is one of the so-called "Catholic 7" basketball-centric schools breaking away from the pack and taking the Big East name with them. A pair of good runs in this NCAA Tournament has have created one more reunion, with the Orange seeking to avenge a 74-71 loss in Milwaukee on Feb. 25.
Ohio State vs. Wichita State
Los Angeles • During Ohio State's journey to the Final Four last season, Aaron Craft learned the importance of focusing on the next 40 minutes, not the three-week trip.
So Craft didn't realize the highest seeds in the West Regional were dropping like dominoes until earlier this week. He purposely didn't learn much about ninth-seeded Wichita State until Thursday night, when the powerful Buckeyes found out they're facing the unheralded Shockers on Saturday for another ticket to the Final Four.
"I think that really helped a lot just getting caught up in the moment and thinking about where you are and what you need to do to get out," Ohio State's star point guard said. "We watch all the games. Obviously we're basketball fans, but I kept saying, 'Where is this team? Which bracket is this in? What is that?' It wasn't until after we played Iowa State that I realized our bracket was being destroyed number-wise, and really realizing how tough every team was."
Craft's point is a theme echoed on both sides of Staples Center on Friday during workouts for the final game in a regional that emphasized the parity throughout college basketball when six of the top eight seeds lost on the first weekend.
Anybody who tries to paint this matchup as David facing down Goliath will get polite disagreement from the supposed big guy and the alleged little guy alike.
O East Regional
Marquette (26-8) vs. Syracuse (29-9), 2:20 p.m., Ch. 2
• Ohio State (29-7) vs. Wichita State (29-8), 4:55 p.m., Ch. 2