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Hoopla: The NCAA Tournament notebook

Canyon Barry #24 of the Florida Gators celebrates

Canyon Barry #24 of the Florida Gators celebrates his teams overtime victory over the Wisconsin Badgers during the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional at Madison Square Garden in New York, New York on Saturday, Mar 25, 2017. 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional between the Wisconsin Badgers and the Florida Gators. Credit: Steven Ryan

CANYON JAMES?

Canyon Barry joked that “I channeled my inner LeBron James in the finals” when he made a vital block on Wisconsin’s Kahlil Iverson with 34 seconds left in overtime. Implied was the reality that Barry, a graduate-student guard for Florida, is better known for his offense, particularly his underhanded free-throw style.

Truth is, he is best known for being the son of Hall of Famer Rick Barry, champion of the underhanded foul shot and a scoring champion in the NCAA, NBA and ABA. The elder Barry and his wife were there to watch their son help secure the Gators’ Sweet 16 East Regional win just before 1 a.m. Saturday. His son is well aware that Rick always enjoyed being in Madison Square Garden.

“I think he used to like to take it out on the Knicks because they didn’t draft him first,” the younger Barry said.

On Dec. 14, 1965, during his rookie season, Barry scored 57 points for the San Francisco Warriors at the old Garden. On St. Patrick’s Day night in 1971, playing for the Nets as part of an ABA doubleheader in rival NBA territory, he set what was then a professional record in the current Garden with 45 points. “He had kind of a chip on his shoulder. He came out and torched people here,” said the son, who admitted he has not seen many vintage Rick Barry highlights.

Canyon’s own highlight moment is worth remembering. His coach certainly never will forget it. “The LeBronesque block by ‘Canyon James,’ I mean it was a huge play,” Mike White said. “Obviously, while I’m screaming, ‘Foul him! Foul him!’ he goes and blocks the shot. It was enormous. If he doesn’t make that play, we don’t win the game.” — MARK HERRMANN

HARDWOOD ON THE GRIDIRON

University of Phoenix Stadium already holds the honor of being the only NFL stadium named for a college that does not have a football team. And a week from tomorrow, it will become the first venue to host the NCAA football and basketball championships and the Super Bowl. A shiny new basketball court has been laid in place on the Arizona Cardinals’ gridiron and awaits the stadium’s next tenants at midfield.

Atlanta’s brand new Mercedes-Benz Stadium and New Orleans’ very old Mercedes-Benz Superdome (opened in 1975) will join the exclusive triple-championship club in 2020.

— Norm Cohen

NO KIDDING AROUND

Sports Illustrated Kids reporter Max Bonnstetter has certainly made an impression at the East Region games at Madison Square Garden.

South Carolina coach Frank Martin started his Saturday afternoon news conference looking for the reporter, who is from New Jersey.

“Where’s my guy from last night?” Martin asked.

Martin added that he wished he could express himself like Bonnstetter did.

Bonnstetter was the first reporter to ask Martin a question in Friday night’s news conference after the Gamecocks beat Baylor in the Sweet 16 with an intense defensive performance.

Bonnstetter: “Your team clearly won the defensive battle tonight. When you coach and teach your team defense, what’s more important, technique or attitude?”

Martin: “First of all, a lot of respect to you. That’s a heck of a question. I’ve been doing this a long time and that’s the first time anyone’s ever asked me that. That’s a heck of a question. Attitude comes first. We got to have guys that are going to believe in our mission, that are going to believe in what we want to do. Once they believe, then we can teach them technique.”

That exchange between the young reporter and Martin blew up on social media and the web. So it was natural for Martin to seek out Bonnstetter to begin Saturday’s news conference.

Bonnstetter also asked one of the first questions in Florida’s news conference early Saturday morning after the Gators had beaten Wisconsin on a last-second, three-pointer in overtime. Since the game didn’t end until just before 1 a.m., that didn’t please some veteran reporters who were on tight deadline.

Bonnstetter also earned praise from Temple coach Fran Dunphy during the early rounds of last year’s NCAA Tournament at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Dunphy thanked Bonnstetter for the way he asked a question about Temple’s upperclassmen stepping up in a tough loss.— Mike Rose

ONE-HIT WONDERS

What do the 1939 Oregon Ducks, 1943 Wyoming Cowboys, 1963 Loyola Ramblers and 1966 Texas Western Miners have in common? They are the four men’s teams to win the NCAA championship in their only Final Four appearance. That includes Texas-El Paso, the current incarnation of Texas Western.

SEC SHOWDOWN

Florida and South Carolina have an obvious sports connection as members of the SEC. That connection will intensify on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden with the No. 3 seed Gators and the No. 7 Gamecocks battling in an Elite Eight game in the East Region, with the winner earning a trip to Phoenix for the Final Four.

The sports connection, however, runs deeper through football. Florida and South Carolina are intense rivals in the SEC East division. Both schools can also claim college football hall-of-famer Steve Spurrier as one of their own.

Beginning in 1990, Spurrier coached at Florida for 12 years, winning 122 games and six bowl games, including the 1996 national championship. Spurrier won 10 or more games in a season nine times.

Spurrier became head coach at South Carolina in 2005 and coached there for 11 years, winning 86 games and five bowl games. The Gamecocks were 11-2 in three straight season, from 2011-13.

Florida hired Spurrier as a consultant and ambassador last July, bringing him back to his alma mater. But Spurrier still keeps his connection to South Carolina. In fact, South Carolina coach Frank Martin said he heard from Spurrier before the team’s Sweet 16 game against Baylor on Friday night.

“Here’s the great thing about coaching — yes, he has called — here’s the great thing about coach Spurrier,” Martin said after the win over Baylor. “He’s done this, so he understands that the last thing he needs to do is be getting in people’s heads about basketball. But now, if you sit down with him in the offseason, coach will coach some basketball now. He loves ball.”

Martin went on to name some others who have been resources for him, including South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley, who was recently named the U.S. Olympic coach. He also talked about learning from his past mistakes as a coach and managing things better as the Gamecocks go for their first Final Four in program history. And, of course, Martin is relying on his support group — which includes Spurrier — to help him.

“I’m the luckiest human being on the face of the Earth because of the people that I have access to that help me every single day,” he said. — Mike Rose

LUCAS’ LAMENT

Regardless of the outcome of Saturday night’s Midwest Regional final, Landen Lucas’ team won.

His clear preference was Kansas, for which he is a senior center. On the other hand, “He’s a big fan of the Ducks,” Kansas coach Bill Self said.

That would be the Oregon Ducks, for whom Lucas’ father, Richard, played forward. The younger Lucas grew up in Portland.

“He told me, ‘Coach, I’ve seen ‘em play at least 15 times this year, ’” Self said before Saturday night’s game. “He has a lot of respect for back home.”

Richard Lucas wore an Oregon shirt for the early regional semifinal at the Sprint Center on Thursday, then switched to a Kansas one for the late game. He told the Register-Guard of Eugene that he planned to wear Kansas colors Saturday.

“I’m a Duck fan when they play anyone else, but I’ve got to root for Kansas on Saturday,” the elder Lucas said.

Oregon coach Dana Altman said the Ducks made a pitch for Lucas.

“We’re really happy for him, great guy, great family,” Altman said. “His dad is a great guy . . . I hope he doesn’t play well [against us], but he’s had a heck of a career.” — NEIL BEST

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