ATLANTA – The celebration LSU staged in the Georgia Dome Saturday included all the regular rituals.
A trophy was presented, symbolizing the Atlanta Region championship. There were speeches from coach John Brady and his players. Hats and T-shirts were passed out. And, the Tigers made sure they trimmed the nets as proof of their 70-60 overtime victory over Texas.
There was just a touch of Mardi Gras as well, and that certainly seemed appropriate since LSU had just qualified for its first Final Four since 1986. Glen "Big Baby" Davis, the gregarious and extroverted star of this LSU team, wrapped a gold boa around his massive biceps and started to dance.
Big Baby knows how to accessorize.
Then, as the LSU band broke into its funkified version of "Do What You Wanna" it was teammate Tyrus Thomas who couldn't control his happy feet. Thomas, voted Most Outstanding Player after scoring 21 points and grabbing 13 rebounds, had been bothered by leg cramps for the final eight minutes of regulation and in overtime. At one point, he could barely leave the floor under his own power.
But the music healed him.
"You know, when you're in pain and you do something good or you have a victory, the pain disappears for some reason," Thomas said. "When you lose, it increases. This was my medicine. And I just felt like dancing."
They don't call it The Big Dance for nothing, but this was a special celebration. These LSU players are mostly homegrown, products of Baton Rouge and the surrounding area. They grew up together, sharing the ups and downs of their youth on the basketball floor and in their homes.
In many ways, this felt like an overgrown family reunion. Davis took the microphone and promised the assembled LSU fans, "It ain't over." The young Tigers (27-8) beat the No. 1 seed (Duke) and the No. 2 seed (Texas) in this weekend of extraordinary defense. But their mission still includes two more victories and a national championship celebration in Indianapolis.
"I wanted to give a shout out to the people of Louisiana, the victims of Hurricane Katrina, and just give them some motivation," Davis said. "This should be uplifting and give them a good feeling about their state. I know a lot of things are going on right now and people are just trying to recuperate from what happened. This is something to push them in the right direction, to come home to New Orleans, and basically to have a good feeling about their state."
Davis, who scored 26 points and had nine rebounds, joined Thomas on the all-tournament team. They combined to score the first 21 points for LSU after halftime, a remarkable collaboration at just the right time.
"Glen and myself live together and we've known each other since we were small, 10 years old," Thomas said. "We just have a relationship like we're blood brothers. We battle for each other and sometimes we call each other soldiers. Soldiers never leave a man behind. We both understood it was time to go to war."
Davis agreed he has a special bond with Thomas.
"We call each other brothers from another mother," Davis said. "And like he says, when one fights, the other fights. That's what brothers do. You go get the big brother. We've got each other's back and we realize the task at hand."
LSU assistant coach John Treloar is headed to the Final Four for the second time in five years. Treloar was an assistant to Mike Davis when Indiana reached the Final Four in 2002.
And Treloar now has used the same motivational tactic with great success at both Indiana and LSU. Before Indiana upset Duke in the 2002 Sweet 16, Treloar showed the Hoosiers a video of boxer Buster Douglas defeating Mike Tyson.
Thomas said the video has become the source of LSU's resiliency in the tournament.
"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."
LSU held Duke to a season low 27.7 percent field goal percentage Thursday night. Texas shot a season-low 30.4 percent Saturday.
LSU's Garrett Temple missed a wide open three-pointer with three seconds left in regulation. His attempt got to the rim, but really wasn't close. It was the type of shot that might have deflated many teams. LSU had already let a five-point lead get away in the final four minutes of regulation.
But Brady said the Tigers weren't bummed heading into overtime.
"The timeout before the overtime started was really positive for our team," Brady said. "We all thought that we were going to win the game. It didn't matter what had happened to that point. All we needed was five minutes and we were going to have an opportunity to keep playing for a national championship."
ALDRIDGE OFF HIS GAME
Texas sophomore LaMarcus Aldridge might be the first player taken in the NBA Draft in June, but he didn't play like a lottery pick against LSU.
Aldridge, who had 26 points and 13 rebounds against West Virginia in the semifinals, made the all-tournament team but was held to four points and 10 rebounds against LSU. He was 2-for-14 from the field and never got into his offense against Davis.
"Davis has that big body," Aldridge said. "He wants to keep his body on you all the time. I knew I had to keep moving, which was the mindset I went into the game with. I am disappointed that I didn't do as well as I could have. I didn't make the shots tonight that I usually make.
"I tried to help with rebounds and defense and do what I could. Most of those shots I took were shots I make often. But LSU is a great defensive team and played well tonight."
Aldridge wouldn't say if he intends to return to Texas or enter the draft.
"I am not going to get into that right now," Aldridge said. "This is not the time."
The Georgia Dome's main basketball scoreboard and horn malfunctioned repeatedly during the semifinals on Thursday. An old-fashioned air horn replaced the electronic buzzer. And the scoreboard over the center court was not operational Saturday.
When an announcement was made regarding the scoreboard just before tip-off Saturday, the crowd of 27,130 booed loudly.
NCAA officials said the scoreboard would be replaced before the Final Four is held at the Georgia Dome next year.
Ken Davis, a longtime college basketball writer for the Hartford Courant, is covering the Atlanta regional exclusively for Yahoo! Sports.