ANAHEIM, Calif. — Earlier this season, Texas Tech coach Chris Beard said he received a letter from Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.
It arrived not long after the schools played at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 20.
This was among the tidbits apparently directed at people who might be surprised, if not shocked, that Texas Tech is headed for the Final Four for the first time in school history after the third-seeded Red Raiders beat top-seeded Gonzaga on Saturday at the Honda Center.
Unlike Gonzaga, Duke beat Texas Tech — by a score of 69-58, after Texas Tech pulled within 60-57 with 3:41 left to play — but the Red Raiders impressed Krzyzewski in the process.
“After the game in the handshake line and in the hallway, Coach K had some great things about our team,’’ Beard recalled Saturday. “ ‘What a heavyweight battle. You guys are really good. Good luck this season.’
“Then he wrote me a letter.’’
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The letter. And the love he got from other coaches. While the media may have missed on Texas Tech’s potential, Beard made it clear members of the coaching fraternity knew his team was talented.
There was Rick Pitino, who Beard said visited Texas Tech’s locker room in Memphis after the Red Raiders beat the Memphis Tigers 78-67.
“He talked to our players in the locker room after the game and he said, ‘I’ve had teams less talented than you guys make it to the Final Four,’ ” Beard recalled. “It’s about the intangibles and the things you guys stand for. (Kansas coach) Bill Self in our league thought we were good enough to make a run in this tournament.’’
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But the plaudits started before the season even started. When Texas Tech played Houston in a preseason scrimmage, Beard said Cougars coach Kelvin Sampson grabbed him “And he goes, ‘Chris, you guys are really good, your new pieces, you guys are really good and you can compete for a (Big) 12 championship,’ ” he said.
Turns out this team is good enough to compete for even more.