His team making the Division II quarterfinals in its first trip to the NCAA tournament didn't awe Bowie State men's basketball coach Luke D'Alessio. He remained matter-of-fact about the Bulldogs' heady accomplishments -- just as he has throughout this season.
"Our goal always has been to win a national championship," D'Alessio said last Friday. "Everything else that we're doing has been our steps to get to that goal. They're pretty confident."
The Bulldogs scored three impressive victories to win the South Atlantic Region, setting up their game yesterday against Massachusetts-Lowell in Lakeland, Fla. (That game ended too late to be included in this edition. See Sports, Section D.)
Bowie State (29-4) has shown throughout its postseason run, which includes the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association tournament title, that it can play any type or style of game -- a big reason D'Alessio had so much confidence.
"All three schools we played in the regions [Lenoir-Rhyne, Kennesaw State and Presbyterian] used different styles," D'Alessio said. "We can play with guards, we can play with the big kids, and we can shoot three-pointers. We can match up against anybody."
The Bulldogs, with five double-figure scorers, create huge matchup problems because they have a number of multitalented players. Forward Tim Washington totaled 39 points with 14 rebounds in the first region victory over Lenoir-Rhyne, 88-82. But when Washington fell into foul trouble in the second game and scored just nine, forward Jon Smith added 24 as the Bulldogs routed Kennesaw State, 95-70.
Washington came back with 17 points and 15 rebounds in the region final over Presbyterian, a 67-53 victory, and guard Stephen Moss-Kelley complemented the inside play with seven three-pointers for 21 points.
D'Alessio has been dealing with a possibly tricky situation throughout the season, running a Bulldogs team that boasts nine seniors, several of whom have transferred from larger programs. But Bowie State's players have understood there's just one ball in the game, and sharing it can help bring victories.
"Once we got together and said we want to win a championship," Washington said, "it all came together."
Added Moss-Kelley: "Everyone's from different backgrounds, but we're all winners."
In addition, D'Alessio isn't letting up on the players. He has told them repeatedly to enjoy having gotten this far, but that any further victories will not be easy.
"I've been saying that you have to take the next step up," D'Alessio said. "Now, to win a national championship we have to make one more step. But we're actually improving every day and every week. We just can't stay at the same level."
The team has answered every challenge so far, but Massachusetts-Lowell (28-4) was expected to provide a significant test. The River Hawks are known for a physical style that could cause the Bulldogs some trouble. With a win yesterday, Bowie State would play in the national semifinals at 6 p.m. today. The nationally televised championship game is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday.
But the team's confident attitude has given D'Alessio plenty to feel good about. They've been shooting for the top all season, and the Bulldogs now are almost there.
"Nobody's worried about who's getting shots," D'Alessio said. "Everybody has the same goal now. We've all got one goal -- to win -- and that's it."