MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Between game-planning for the Grizzlies and dealing with a hotel that didn’t carry truTV, coach Fred Hoiberg still found a way to watch Loyola grab the city’s hearts on Thursday afternoon.
“We didn’t get truTV in the hotel, unfortunately, but I was following it on my phone and was able to see that last shot,’’ Hoiberg said of Donte Ingram’s buzzer-beater. “It was obviously unbelievable, such an exciting moment. I love how the city has rallied around that team. It’s such a great time of year for them to advance. They’re a very confident team right now.’’
Hoiberg knows a little something about this time of year after coaching Iowa State to four NCAA Tournament appearances, including a run to the Sweet 16 in the 2013-14 season.
Growing up in Ames, Iowa, he also knows what life is like in a college town and can appreciate the way Chicago is getting a taste of that with the Ramblers.
“I think it’s really cool, especially when you have a double-digit seed,’’ Hoiberg said. “They’re going to be the underdog moving forward. When you look back on this tournament, hopefully it’s something that people talk about as being the Cinderella story of the tournament for this year.
“It’s a fun group of guys to root for. I was able to watch some of their conference tournament. I’ve gotten to know [coach] Porter Moser over the last few months. He’s such a good person. And he’s doing a great job with that team. To get them in the tournament, I think it was the first win in 33 years. It’s an exciting time.’’
With Lauri Markkanen sidelined again with back spasms, Noah Vonleh was given his second consecutive start. Hoiberg admitted that the rest of the season is important for Vonleh, a 6-9 power forward.
The Bulls have to make a decision on him this offseason and want to see if he has staying power.
“It’s an important stretch for him; he understands that, but we’ve really liked what we’ve seen,’’ Hoiberg said. “It has obviously been a small sample size, and as he continues to get more minutes and his role increases, we’ll learn a lot. We’ve liked what we’ve seen as far as a big, strong body, really good rebounder, a guy who can knock down shots, and he had a couple of really nice attacks at the basket.’’
Markkanen has had setbacks with his back three times since the summer, so Hoiberg was asked about shutting him down for the rest of the season.
“I hear ya, but if he’s healthy, we still want to see the lineup with him, Kris [Dunn] and Zach [LaVine],’’ Hoiberg said. “We’ll continue to evaluate him. We’ll take a cautious approach.’’
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