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March 26, 2006
ATLANTA - The secret is out: Now the nation knows there's more than one Baby Tiger headed to the Final Four.
Freshman Tyrus Thomas, only about two-thirds as big as LSU's more famous Glen ''Big Baby'' Davis, emerged from the shadow cast by his big frontcourt partner in the Atlanta Regional. Davis also enjoyed a big game in the regional final against Texas, but Thomas claimed MVP honors as LSU upset the top two seeds in Atlanta.
Davis attracts attention as a 310-pounder with surprising athleticism, but the 6-foot-9, 215-pound Thomas used his eye-popping leaping ability to lead the Tigers' inside defense.
Thomas grabbed 13 rebounds, scored 21 points and blocked three shots in the 70-60 overtime win over Texas on Saturday. With his relentless jumping, the intimidating Thomas altered at least as many shots as he blocked.
One game after Thomas and LSU held No. 1 seed Duke to a season-low 27.7 percent shooting in the regional semifinal, he helped hold LaMarcus Aldridge and No. 2 seed Texas to a season-low 30.4 percent shooting.
''He's a tremendous athlete,'' Texas forward Brad Buckman said. ''Just for being a freshman he's got a huge upside. And he's aggressive. He can rebound the ball. He is going to be good, man, he's going to be real good.''
Thomas delivered a powerful jam on a put-back to spark an early 10-0 run that gave LSU its first lead against Texas. He capped the run with an alley-oop dunk. Thomas added another alley-oop jam on a pass from Tasmin Mitchell late in the first half and then scored eight of the Tigers' first 12 points of the second half.
In one sequence, Thomas scored on a lay-up, went down the floor and blocked a shot by P.J. Tucker - only to come down with the deflection.
Thomas' teammates weren't surprised to see him playing above the rim.
''In one SEC game we played against Arkansas at home, I threw an alley-oop pass to him and he went up and caught it at the top corner of the backboard,'' LSU guard Garrett Temple said. ''It was then that I really had to marvel at his big ups. I really expect him to get everything off the rim.''
Next up for LSU is UCLA in the Final Four, and Bruins coach Ben Howland needs no introduction to Thomas.
''This is like going into a human fly-swatting machine,'' Howland said.
Thomas, who blocked a personal-best nine shots against Tennessee on Jan. 14, has been the Tigers' top fly swatter all season, with more than twice as many rejections as Davis (96-41).
But Thomas saved perhaps his best all-around game for Saturday's national spotlight. His 21 points was one shy of his career high, and his 13 rebounds were two away from his high game. Davis also delivered big with 26 points, nine rebounds and one blocked shot.
''They're two great players,'' Buckman said. ''They came ready to play, and we did our best job. I think we played pretty good defense on those guys and it was tough, because Tyrus is always jumping when you try to shoot a shot and he had a couple great blocks.''
Davis and Thomas combined to hold Aldridge to 2-of-14 shooting and four points, 11 below his average.
Thomas and LSU burst onto the national scene after a slow start to the season. Thomas missed two weeks with a high ankle sprain he sustained against Kentucky on Feb. 25, and he played off the bench in the first two NCAA tournament games.
LSU was 8-5 following a 67-66 loss to Connecticut on Jan. 7 and wasn't ranked higher than No. 17 in The Associated Press Top 25.
The Tigers followed the loss to Connecticut with seven straight wins.
''After we lost at Connecticut, I think it was more of an eye-opener to show what we can do, and it showed us what we needed to do to achieve our potential,'' Thomas said.
Thomas said the Tigers were motivated by coach John Brady showing the team a video of the Buster Douglas-Mike Tyson fight in 1990.
''Texas gave us some hard punches and we had to be Buster Douglas and swing back,'' Thomas said. ''We swung back at them. We knocked out Mike Tyson.''
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