Notes and tidbits from around the NCAA Tournament on Friday:
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski isn’t afraid to bench anyone, including his star players.
Krzyzewski became livid with Jahlil Okafor when the star center missed a reverse dunk against Robert Morris in the second half of Friday night’s NCAA Tournament round of 64 game against 16th-seeded Robert Morris.
The Hall of Fame coach leaped off the bench, screaming at Okafor. He quickly pointed down the bench for Marshall Plumlee to replace him. At the next timeout, Okafor walked dejectedly toward the bench where Coach K lit into him even more.
Duke was up 20 at the time, but when the lead dwindled to 10 Krzyzewski was forced to put the 6-foot-11, 270-pounder back in the game. The top-seeded Blue Devils then pushed the lead back to 20.
— Steve Reed
Frank Kaminsky, Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes had wrapped up their post-game press conference after leading top-seeded Wisconsin to a victory over Coastal Carolina on Friday night, exiting down the stairs from the stage. Then, with the interview room lights turned down and nearly deserted, the three came bouncing back through the curtains and posted up right behind the stenographer.
Like a trio of schoolchildren, they started peppering the woman responsible for transcribing their quotes with questions about how stenography works. Then, they started punching the keys on her machine to see what they would produce.
“Whoa!” yelled Hayes, when his name popped up on the screen. “You got me!”
Even coach Bo Ryan ducked back through the curtains to get the low-down on the stenography trade before ushering his boys back to the locker room.
Who says the “student” part of “student-athlete” no longer exists?
— Dave Skretta
BETTER BOASTS: KENTUCKY OR UCLA?
UCLA’s presence at the South Regional in Louisville with top-ranked Kentucky puts two programs with 19 combined NCAA titles on the home court of a Cardinals program that has won three championships.
Playing in an arena full of blue-clad Wildcats fans has also helped the Bruins understand basketball’s value and tradition to Bluegrass State faithful who expect championships every year.
“I know it’s a basketball state and they love their college teams here,” said Bruins freshman forward Kevon Looney, a Milwaukee native. “Louisville and Kentucky basketball is huge. Being from the Midwest, you always hear about Louisville or Kentucky being the blue-blood or blue-chip schools, so they’ve been the teams to watch.”
Kentucky even boasts of having “The Greatest Tradition in the History of College Basketball” by virtue of being the sport’s winningest program with 2,175 victories and a 76 percent success rate, not to mention eight national titles with No. 9 in sight for this year’s 35-0 squad.
The Bruins find Kentucky’s claim interesting considering they’ve won 11 national titles.
“I think you go by the national championships,” senior forward Norman Powell said. “Both are storied programs, but it’s definitely about the championships that have been won.”
Kentucky will face UCLA at Pauley Pavilion next season in the beginning of a home-and-home series that might not settle the ‘who’s the greatest?’ issue but allow the rivalries to be played in natural settings.
The Wildcats can claim current bragging rights after an 83-44 December victory in Chicago over the Bruins that players insist was a long time ago.
— Gary B. Graves
KENTUCKY TO GONZAGA, NO REGRETS
Kyle Wiltjer watches Kentucky from afar these days. His former team is trying to make history by becoming the first squad since 1976 to go undefeated.
The Kentucky-turned-Gonzaga forward hope’s he’ll leave a lasting mark at his new school.
He left the Wildcats not so much because he was unhappy, but because he didn’t see huge room to grow his own game in the never-ending talent pool that John Calipari churns in and out of Lexington.
Wiltjer as a Wildcat in the 2012.
“I feel like I’ve worked on a lot of parts of my game and I think it really makes me tougher to defend when I can do multiple things,” Wiltjer said.
The 6-foot-10 forward has turned himself into an inside-outside threat. He averages 16 points and six rebounds a game, and he’s a big reason the Bulldogs are 32-2 this year, seeded second in the South Region with a game Friday against North Dakota State.
Wiltjer was on the 2012 Kentucky team that won the national title. Maybe he hasn’t seen the last of the Wildcats. On opposite sides of the bracket, the Wildcats and Bulldogs could meet in the final.
“A lot of my friends are on that team and I wish them the best,” he said. “Hopefully they can continue to do well, as well as us.”
— Eddie Pells
EVERYBODY OUT OF THE POOL! (ALMOST)
The virtually impossible quest for a perfect bracket is pretty much done for another year. Another failed year, of course.
According to a tweet by ESPN on Friday before most teams played, only 95 of nearly 11.6 million brackets filled out on its site were still perfect, a whopping 0.0008 percent. Appropriate that the network accompanied that revelation in a @Sportscenter tweet with a Vine video of someone burning a paper bracket.
Kevin Hart, however, stayed perfect until 10th-seeded Indiana lost to No. 7 seed Wichita State, the blemish coming right after Hart bragged about his prognostication on Instagram.
“I’m a NCAA BRACKET PICKING MACHINE people…..” Hart said as he share a spot atop ESPN’s celebrity bracket contest with late night host Jimmy Kimmel and actor Jonathan Sadowski, among others.
MAGIC FOR MICHIGAN STATE
Magic Johnson spent Friday behind the Michigan State bench watching his beloved Spartans play the Georgia Bulldogs and hamming it up with fans.
As always, Johnson drew a crowd.
The former Michigan State and NBA star spent the entire halftime period signing autographs, posing for pictures and talking with Spartan fans, who formed a line 30 people deep up one of the aisles.
Johnson, who said he brings his father to see the Spartans play in the NCAA Tournament every year, said he “loves” this Michigan State team and believes they’re peaking at the right time.
“I think the Big 10 Tournament helped us start playing really good basketball,” Johnson told The Associated Press. “Even in the loss to Wisconsin we played fantastic until the last minute or two.”
Johnson called Tom Izzo the best coach in college basketball.
“He does his best work during the tournament,” Johnson said. “He’s got them ready to play.”
Johnson likes 10th-seeded Michigan State’s chances of getting to the Sweet 16 – and possibly beyond.
“But you have to play your best ball right now,” Johnson said.
Johnson said he had just arrived at Time Warner Cable Arena, where Michael Jordan’s Charlotte Hornets call home. Johnson said he hadn’t called Jordan because he just arrived in town, but plans to do so before he leaves town.
— Steve Reed
Kurt Warner is in for one of those weeks.
“Anytime you don’t have the ball in your hands, you get nervous,” he said.
The MVP quarterback is in Seattle watching his alma mater, Northern Iowa, play in the NCAA Tournament.
He’s far from a regular, a la Ashley Judd with Kentucky or Magic Johnson with Michigan State. But this time, when Panthers coach Ben Jacobson gave Warner a call and asked him to bring his sons and hang out with the team, the QB jumped at it.
He was on his feet through pretty much all of Northern Iowa’s game against Wyoming — cheering a lot, fidgeting even more.
“Any time you’re standing back, whether it’s my kids or watching your team, yeah, I’ve got butterflies in my stomach,” he said.
— Curtis Crabtree
The New Mexico State mascot was down to a single six-shooter by the first media timeout of the No. 15-seed Aggies’ game against second-seeded Kansas on Friday.
Jordan Johnson, dressed in an Old West getup complete with chaps, wears a pair of pistols on a gun belt. But when he yanked them out during a timeout, the metal barrel went flying off one of the pistols and into the crowd. Fans returned it to Johnson, who sheepishly handed the two pieces to a member of the spirit squad’s coaching staff.
All this happened after Pistol Pete was heavily scrutinized by security staff even though the very real-looking Colt .45 pistols are models.
Wearing a fake black mustache as part of his costume, Pistol Pete draws his guns and bounces them up and down to the delight of the Aggie faithful whenever the pep band plays the fight song.
“Kids want to touch them, parents want to hold them, people take photos of friends holding them,” Johnson said. “It’s a good symbol of the Southwest and New Mexico, and everybody loves them.”
Johnson, a 20-year-old sophomore from Alamogordo, New Mexico, has been Pistol Pete since the start of the fall semester. In this security-conscious age, carrying the fake guns requires great care.
“We have to fly with a special lock box. We have to check with the right people. Police at the arena check them before we come in,” he said.
Two years ago, a former Pistol Pete had his guns confiscated at an airport, and it took a year to get them returned.
Pistol Pete performs regularly at football and basketball games, but he’s even shown up at tennis and golf matches.
“If there are Aggies there,” he said, “we’ll be there.”
LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON
Georgia State coach Ron Hunter has made a name for himself with his celebrations.
First was the Achilles tendon-tearing leap after the Panthers clinched the Sun Belt championship that drew national attention.
Hunter was at it again during Georgia State’s opening NCAA Tournament game, falling off his scooter after his son, R.J., hit a game-winning 3-pointer with 2.7 seconds left against Baylor. He broke his cast and needs a new one.
Not wanting to pass up an opportunity to poke fun at his dad, R.J. decided on a re-enactment (http://bit.ly/1Fgq7JA).
WHAT’S A CHANTICLEER?
Coastal Carolina has one of the more unusual nicknames of any team in the NCAA Tournament. The team from Conway, South Carolina, is known as the Chanticleers (pronounced SHAWN-tuh-clear).
Chanticleer is referenced in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. You surely remember that from high school English class, right? It’s a rooster that, according to Coastal Carolina’s sports information office, rules the barnyard with “cunning and wit.”
“His competiveness never wanes as he battles to the end, using his brains to come out on top every time” – or so the school says.
You also have to love those cool team colors – teal, bronze and black.
— Eric Olson
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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