By David Brandt/The Associated Press
The last time Louisiana Tech was this good Karl Malone patrolled the courts on the university’s Ruston campus.
Second-year coach Michael White might not have a leading man like Malone on his roster, but the program is back among the nation’s best thanks to an ensemble cast that hasn’t lost in more than two months.
Louisiana Tech moved into the Top 25 on Monday for the first time since a 13-week run during the 1984-85 season, edging Colorado State for the No. 25 spot. The Bulldogs (24-3, 14-0 Western Athletic Conference) are on a 16-game winning streak and haven’t lost since an 80-72 setback to McNeese State on Dec. 12.
Louisiana Tech has two home games this week to bask in its newfound popularity — on Thursday against Utah State and Saturday against San Jose State.
“It’s crazy to think about how long it’s been,” said White, 35. “It’s a neat accomplishment. Our kids are excited about it. But does it make us any better on Thursday against Utah State? No. We need to handle this correctly.”
Malone was the unquestioned superstar for the Bulldogs when they advanced to the NCAA’s round of 16 in 1985. White has put together the program’s current run with a deep team that’s led by guard Raheem Appleby, who scores a team-high 14.7 points per game.
Appleby said White’s subtle leadership and trust in his players has led to success. The Bulldogs often use 11 players in the regular rotation each game, employing a high-energy approach that has worn opponents down.
“We don’t have 100 offensive sets or slow the ball down very often,” Appleby said. “We’re built to score in transition and that’s why we don’t really have any stars. Our offense doesn’t go through any one person, we just get it out on the break and make things happen.”
White played his college basketball at Ole Miss in the late 1990s, starting at point guard for the Rebels as they advanced to the NCAA tournament three times during his career. He was also an assistant for the Rebels from 2006 to 2010 under coach Andy Kennedy before taking the job at Louisiana Tech.
White comes from a family with deep ties to college athletics. His father Kevin White is the athletic director at Duke. His brother Danny White is the athletic director at Buffalo and another brother, Brian White, is an associate athletic director at Louisiana Tech.
Kennedy said Michael White has all the attributes needed to be a good coach.
“It was great to talk with Louisiana Tech during the hiring process because I had no doubts he’d be ready,” Kennedy said. “He was a coach on the floor even when he played. He’s got a good way, a good demeanor about him. He understands teaching and knows how to make adjustments. His success doesn’t surprise me at all. I’m very proud of him.”
White has built Louisiana Tech’s program quickly since coming to Ruston in 2011. The Bulldogs finished 18-16 last season, including a 6-8 mark in the WAC, but made a conference tournament run to the finals before losing to New Mexico State. That late-season success was an indication of things to come.
“We’ve got a good group of guys who have sold out to defending,” White said. “We’re offensively challenged at times. On nights we make jump shots, we’re pretty good. Some nights we’re just glad to get off the court one point better than the other team.”
Now Louisiana Tech is trying to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1991.
The Bulldogs might have to win the WAC tournament to assure a spot in the field. They’re No. 52 in the NCAA’s most recent RPI rankings and have not played a particularly difficult schedule.
White said his team’s focus is just winning more games and earning the No. 1 seed in the WAC tournament.
“This (national ranking) is really just another hurdle,” White said. “It’s another obstacle that could deter focus or it could provide more encouragement about reminding us about how we’ve got to keep improving.”
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