BRADENTON, Fla. – Southern Cal coach Chris Zambri sat down at the end of a 15-hour day, one that saw his Trojans defeat two of the best teams in the country to advance to the final matches of the NCAA Championship, and he still couldn’t believe the facts.
USC has won three NCAA women’s titles. The men have appeared in 57 NCAA Championships and haven’t won once. Their best finish is third place, something they’ve done seven times.
“It doesn’t make sense to me that we haven’t won,” Zambri confided.
He then rattled off mind-boggling stats that his alma mater has collected over the last half century that included the number of touring professionals, major-championship winners, All-Americans and Pac-12 Conference Championships.
After playing 126 holes the past six days – including a practice round – USC is staring at its best chance at its first national title. The Trojans will play LSU in the championship matches Wednesday at Concession Golf Club. The action will be live on Golf Channel at 11:30 a.m. ET.
Zambri referred to his playing time (1989-93) at USC as the “darkest years” although he was taking a jab at himself more than he was the performance of the team. He took over the helm in 2006 and has had decent success during his tenure. Last year though was a kick in the pants when USC finished dead last (30th) at the NCAA Championship.
Asked if he thought last year that his team would be strong enough to be in its current position, Zambri, simply said, “I don’t know.”
Since that depressing week in America’s Heartland, the Trojans have won three tournaments, are ranked No. 13 in the Golfstat rankings and are the first Pac-12 team to reach the championship matches since the tournament moved to a match-play format in 2009.
“It’s amazing where we are now,” Zambri said.
USC toppled second-ranked Texas in the quarterfinals Tuesday then took down fourth-ranked Illinois in the afternoon semifinals. Sophomore Rico Hoey and junior Bobby Gojuangco each won both of their matches.
On the other side will be LSU. The Tigers are looking for their fifth NCAA title, but first since 1955. Or as LSU coach Chuck Winstead says, since the days of black and white TV.
LSU, ranked ninth, has won four times this year including the SEC Championship. They took down conference rivals Vanderbilt and Georgia on the way to the final and got over a hurdle they were not able climb a year ago when they lost to Alabama in the semifinals.
Junior Zach Wright won both matches Tuesday for the Tigers and sophomore Eric Ricard never trailed in a key momentum match in the semifinals against Georgia’s Greyson Sigg.
This marks the fifth year in a row, and the sixth time in the last seven years that an SEC team has advanced to the championship match. Alabama won the last two years but failed to advance to the NCAA Championship this year.
It’s been a long, grueling year for both teams and an even longer, taxing week here at Concession. But now, somehow, USC and LSU must find a way to summon their respective bests one last time.
“When you’re playing for a national championship tired doesn’t work,” Winstead said bluntly. “I’m comfortable that tomorrow will be decided by the guys one way or another.”
Said Zambri: “It’s high pressure because we care. We’re dealing with it.
“The program is in good shape, but this would be a real big shot in the arm.”
CHAMPIONSHIP MATCH PAIRINGS:
10:30AM ET: Rico Hoey (USC) vs. Brandon Pierce
10:40AM ET: Bobby Gojuangco (USC) vs. Benjamin Taylor
10:50AM ET: Sean Crocker (USC) vs. Zach Wright
11:00AM ET: Jonah Texeira (USC) vs. Eric Ricard
11:10AM ET: Eric Sugimoto (USC) vs. Stewart Jolly