Stockton trying to live down rare air ball

The Associated Press Published:

The ball left his hand and Gonzaga sophomore guard David Stockton's first thought was "uh-oh."

Stockton insists the slick Wilson basketball used in the NCAA tournament slipped out of his hands. Maybe. Either way, the free throw brushed the net but never made it over the rim.

Air ball.

Stockton was momentarily stunned, then did his best to laugh it off. Good idea. Everybody else was laughing too, including his father, normally stoic Hall of Fame guard John Stockton. With Dad pulling his black jacket over his mouth to stifle a grin a few rows behind the Gonzaga bench, David Stockton tried to get back on defense after one of the rare missteps during a 77-54 win over West Virginia on Thursday.

"That's never happened," Stockton insisted on Friday. "It slipped. I wouldn't lie to you guys."

Stockton finished with four points as the Bulldogs rolled into a third-round showdown against second-seeded Ohio State. He joked he didn't spend any more time at the line working on his stroke on Friday, though maybe he should. Stockton shot 59 percent from the stripe this season. His father made 83 percent of his foul shots in the NBA.

It's one of the few traits John Stockton hasn't passed down to his son. David's jumper looks like a carbon copy of the one his father used to score 19,711 points and he's just as fearless in the lane.

David thinks he can take his dad one-on-one, though he's not quite sure. Neither are his teammates, who have enjoyed having one of the greatest players in basketball history stop by during practices to trade trash talk with the Bulldogs.

"If you run into him, he'll tell you what you might need to work on, what will help you, be beneficial to your game," Gonzaga center Robert Sacre said. "He's like Chuck Norris, he can do anything, man. He's awesome."

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BUCKEYE COUNTRY: Michigan State coach Tom Izzo went for a walk outside his hotel and lived to tell about it.

"A lot of those people in that funny-looking red were all good to me," Izzo said with a laugh. "I don't think it will be as brutal as you think."

The Spartans' opening stop in the NCAA tournament is Columbus, Ohio, home of the beloved Buckeyes, one of the Spartans' biggest rivals.

Although Michigan State won't be treated like hometown favorites, Izzo expects Ohio State fans in attendance at Nationwide Arena to pull for the Spartans.

"Remember, we're not in Ann Arbor and we're not Michigan," he said. "We're Michigan State. We have a decent relationship with the Buckeyes. And we've had some good wars with them. But it's I think a pretty clean rivalry."

Ohio State and Michigan State split their two regular-season games before the Spartans beat the Buckeyes last week in Indianapolis for the tournament title.

Izzo expects Big Ten fans to unite in March.

"I really believe that one thing about our league and the coaches in this league right now, I think everybody's kind of pulling for everybody in the league," he said. "And I'm not begging for fans. I got enough of them. I remember we played in the Final Four in St. Louis. The Illinois fans and our fans cheered for each other.

"So I'm pulling for Ohio State in Pittsburgh, and so if the Buckeye fans want to wear their red and pull for Michigan State, I'd be happy as hell."

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NO TWITTER FOR YOU: Mike Krzyzewski took away his players' Twitter privileges in January and he's thankful he did.

The Blue Devils coach said it wasn't a punishment, but rather a way of keeping his players' focus inside the locker room.

"It wasn't a punishment or anything," Krzyzewski said. "It's just I think sometimes in the development of a team, you can be connected with your Twitter shallow family or you can get more connected with your team deep family. And that basically is just to try to get together, try to develop our family greater, talk to each other, not to talk to people that you may not even get a response from. It's just to try to form deeper, more long-lasting relationships."

He thinks it's worked.

"I think we have become a very close team," Krzyzewski said. "I don't think that's the main reason. I think the main reason is we have played really tough games and we have had to depend on one another, but I thought that was a good decision."

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WELL, THAT WAS AWKWARD: When No. 2 seeds Kansas and Missouri arrived in Omaha for their workouts this week, both teams probably did a double-take. With eight teams at the site and not enough locker rooms to go around, the bitter rivals were stuck sharing the same one.

There was no such folly on Friday.

The Tigers, who lost to No. 15 seed Norfolk State in the afternoon, had the locker room all to themselves at the CenturyLink Center. The sign for Kansas had been removed from the wall and only the Missouri placard remained.

Tournament officials said they would swap them out for the evening session, when the Jayhawks arrived for their game against No. 15 seed Detroit.

Kansas and Missouri are parting company after more than a century in the same conference, adding to what has already been a heated rivalry. Missouri, which will join the SEC next season, has said it wants to continue playing the Jayhawks out of conference. Kansas has so far declined.

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NOT THAT LOUD: People were still talking the next day about how loud the Consol Energy Center was during the final minutes of top-seeded Syracuse's 72-65 victory over North Carolina-Asheville on Thursday. Not only was the crowd of over 18,000 pulling for the Bulldogs to become the first 16 seed to beat a No. 1, but they let their emotions known over two calls by the officials in the final 1:20.

Apparently it wasn't that loud to Syracuse guard Scoop Jardine, who had some fun answering the question.

"I didn't hear it. I thought they were 'Scoop-ing,' especially when I went to the foul line," he said of the booing. "We've been in hostile environments before. It don't matter. I tell you one thing, I heard my dad. I heard my dad in the stands. If I can hear him, they wasn't that loud."

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QUE PASA?: There are always some great recruiting stories making the rounds and Kansas State's Jordan Henriquez has one about his coach.

The 6-foot-11 junior, who was born in Baldwin, N.Y. and atttended high school in Port Chester, N.Y., recounted his initial meeting with Wildcats coach Frank Martin, a native of Miami whose first language is Spanish.

"When I first met him, it was in New York. I sat down with him. You know, he started speaking to me in Spanish," Henriquez said. "I didn't understand what he was saying. I couldn't respond back to him either. He's like, 'Oh, you're Spanish?' I'm like, 'Yeah, but I don't speak it.' From then on, our relationship grew tremendously."

Martin still laughs about it.

"You know, Jordan's story is absolutely true," he said. "I was sitting there in the home visit. I started rambling off in Spanish, because that is my natural language. I could tell the way he was looking at me that something wasn't right. When I finished that great first three, four sentences, he looked at me and said, 'Coach, I don't speak Spanish.' You can image how big I felt."

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THE OL' 12-5 UPSET: Shaka Smart and No. 12 seed VCU got to the Rose Garden relatively early before their second-round game against Wichita State on Thursday, to the point Smart was able to watch a good amount of No. 5 seed New Mexico and 12th-seeded Long Beach State in the game preceding his own.

He was openly rooting for New Mexico. Why? Smart knows his NCAA tournament history.

"I was talking to one of the coaches, I said, 'Every year there's a 12-5 upset.' I said, 'I hope New Mexico wins so we can be that 12 that upsets a 5,'" Smart said. "Nothing against Long Beach, they had a great year. But that was definitely a big factor for us."

Smart and his Rams made their memorable run to the Final Four a year ago as a No. 11 seed. By pulling the first upset of the tournament, the Rams continued the uncanny string of a No. 12 seed beating a No. 5 seed for the fifth straight tournament and in 22 of the past 24.

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1-2-3, BABIES: Hall of Fame broadcaster Dick Vitale is using one of his many books to try and help kids who won't be playing college basketball for quite a while.

Vitale has been touring the country this season with the aim of helping children from ages 2 to 6 learn how to read and count. He is using his book "Dickie V's ABCs and 1-2-3s: A Great Start for Young Superstars" (Ascend Books) as a teaching aid as he tries to tell youngsters about more than dribbling, dunks and defense.

While promoting children's literacy, Vitale is also raising money for pediatric cancer research through the Jimmy V Foundation.

"I hope basketball fans everywhere can dish out some assists and score a few points for children's literacy by purchasing a copy of my book and giving it to a deserving youngster . . . those guys are my real diaper dandies," Vitale said, using his famous phrase for describing young college basketball players. "My goal is to sell as many books as possible during the tourney. Together, we can do it. It's a slam dunk, baby."

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AP Basketball Writer Jim O'Connell and AP Sports Writers Tom Withers, Tim Booth, Dave Skretta and Will Graves contributed to this report.