Notes and tidbits from around the NCAA Tournament on Friday:
NOTRE DAME UP AGAINST 50 SHADES OF BLUE
Don’t expect Notre Dame to be shaken by Kentucky’s Big Blue.
Actually, the color seems to suit the Fighting Irish rather well.
Notre Dame fans will be badly outnumbered on Saturday night inside Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland when the Irish face the top-seeded Wildcats, who are followed around the country each March by their devoted fans — college basketball’s version of Deadheads. It’s nothing new to Notre Dame, which had to travel to Greensboro, North Carolina for the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament and faced Duke and North Carolina on consecutive nights.
That could give anyone the blues, but Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said the experience toughened his team:
“To go through Duke and North Carolina on Friday and Saturday night, and the atmosphere will be the same because it was all Duke blue and Carolina blue in Greensboro, and I know it will be whatever that shade of blue is out here tomorrow. I think it really has helped us, I think it’s really prepared us for this atmosphere.”
“And I loved in Greensboro how we just absorbed it and played fearlessly in it and we’re going to have to do that tomorrow against a great team.”
— Tom Withers
FLASHBACK FRIDAY: GONZAGA LAST ELITE EIGHT IN 1999
Sixteen years later is pretty sweet for Gonzaga: They’re back in the Elite Eight for the first time since 1999.
Yep, the year Prince sang about, a moment when gas was creeping up to $1.05 a gallon, Cher’s “Believe” was the top song on the Billboard Hot 100 and “Forces of Nature” opened as the top movie in the country by grossing $13.5 million.
That’s when the Bulldogs had their breakout year as a No. 10 seed, showing a mid-major could go deep in the NCAA Tournament. Led by Richie Frahm, Matt Santangelo, Jeremy Eaton and Casey Calvary, Gonzaga beat seventh-seeded Minnesota, No. 2 seed Stanford and sixth-seeded Florida in the tournament before losing to UConn in the regional final. UConn won the national title as a top seed.
But that was just the start of Gonzaga’s run. They’ve made the tournament every year since and now have their best finish since that second tournament appearance 16 years ago.
— Oskar Garcia
Kentucky didn’t blame West Virginia’s Daxter Miles Jr. for predicting the Mountaineers would make the unbeaten Wildcats “36-1” after pulling a massive upset to reach the Sweet 16. Every player thinks his team should win, right? If not, you’re doing it wrong.
Still, making a point on the floor wasn’t quite enough, though the 78-39 double-up domination said plenty about what the Wildcats can do when poked. Afterward, freshman guard Devin Booker took to Twitter to provide an exclamation point, simply tweeting: “36 and won.”
The mild smack talk quickly went viral with nearly 20,000 retweets and more than 17,000 favorites. Here’s the thing though, the crack wasn’t quite Booker’s idea.
Turns out he picked up his 18th steal of the season — this one unofficial of course. Freshman center Dakari Johnson says 36 and won was his idea before Booker peeked over Johnson’s massive shoulders after the game.
“I was actually about to tweet it and he looked at my phone and got it before me,” Johnson said. “I’ll let him take the credit.”
If the Wildcats make it past Notre Dame in the Elite Eight, we recommend another approach: 38 and whoa.
— Will Graves
SHOWALTER’S BACKSIDE HIGHLIGHT REEL
Zak Showalter not only was a game-changer for Wisconsin in its Elite Eight victory over North Carolina, but he became a bit of an internet video sensation.
Showalter, a sophomore reserve who scored the go-ahead layup late and followed with a huge steal and basket, knocked over teammate Josh Gasser from the side with his butt while jumping high for a rebound. Video of the play has been circulating online ever since (http://bit.ly/1NkZeoQ ).
“We were looking at the video last night and laughing about it,” Showalter said. “He said he knew as soon as it happened it was me because I’m the only guy that would do something like that, crazy like that. It was funny to watch.”
The play came in the first half. While going for an offensive rebound, Showalter leapt underneath the basket and planted his posterior in the face of Gasser, who was watching the ball as it came down.
“I took a terrible shot and missed it but next thing I know Showy is flying across the lane and just drills me in the head and I remember being like ‘What the.'” Gasser said. “If you’ve seen Showy, that’s just Showy. He’s always flying around, unnecessarily jumping, does it in practice all the time. We gave him some grief about it but when you win it’s more fun to talk about.”
The hits keep coming on the video, but Showalter isn’t ready to call himself an online star quite yet.
“I don’t know if I’m a sensation,” he said. “I really don’t know how many people have seen it.”
— Kyle Glaser
THERE A LID ON THOSE BUCKETS?
Take the lid off those baskets in Houston.
Gonzaga and UCLA had a stretch of nearly 6 1/2 minutes in the first half of their Sweet 16 game Friday night when they combined to miss 19 consecutive field goal attempts.
When UCLA’s Thomas Welsh made a layup with 14:22 left in the first half, Gonzaga had a 13-10 lead.
The Bruins then missed their next eight shots — and Gonzaga missed 11 in a row. The Bulldogs had three free throws in that span to go ahead 16-10 before UCLA’s Norman Powell made a layup with 7:57 left.
Gonzaga’s field goal drought was more than 7 minutes, between Kyle Wiltjer’s jumper with 14:47 left and Przemek Karnowski’s jumper with 7:36 left.
Follow all the ins and outs behind the scenes of the NCAA Tournament brought to you by Associated Press journalists on Inside the Madness: http://collegebasketball.ap.org/blog/ap-now-inside-madness
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