Former President Bush Enjoys the Tourney

By: AP
By: AP

March Madness is under way and AP sports writers will be filing frequent behind-the-scenes reports from NCAA regional sites:

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SATURDAY, March 30:

HOUSTON - Former president George H.W. Bush had a front row seat for the Texas-Memphis South Regional final on Sunday.

Bush caused a stir at halftime when children near his seat began asking to pose for pictures with him. He mugged for various cameras through most of the break and even posed for a few shots with the University of Texas cheerleaders.

- AP Sports Writer Kristie Rieken

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HOUSTON - Memphis has raced to a big lead and Texas looks stunned by just how fast and athletic the Tigers are. They haven't faced a team like this in the Big 12 and it's quite a shock after playing Stanford on Friday. Derrick Rose is scoring at will, D.J. Augustin can't hit anything and keeps turning the ball over.

And that Texas crowd? Quiet. Longhorns fans are sitting on their hands because they haven't had much to cheer about.

Rose seemed to be favoring that eye bandage early on but it hasn't slowed him down on drives to the basket or when he soars over the Longhorns for rebounds.

- AP Sports Writer Jim Vertuno

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HOUSTON - The free throw line is Memphis' friend in the first half. The Tigers started 5-of-6 from the line in the early going to build a 20-13 lead eight minutes in.

Coach John Calipari has said all along he wouldn't worry - his team shot just 59 percent for the season - and promised the Tigers would make them when they really count.

We'll see if the game is close in the last few minutes if this trend holds up.

- AP Sports Writer Jim Vertuno

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HOUSTON - OK, here comes the "home" crowd for the Texas Longhorns at Reliant Stadium. Texas fans, who look like they outnumber Memphis fans about 10-1, started cranking up their "Texas Fight" chant about 20 minutes before tipoff.

That fired up the Memphis pep band, which started playing and effectively silenced the Horns with the brass in the band.

Whether Texas fans will be louder than they were in the regional semifinal win over Stanford remains to be seen. The size of this football arena seems to suck up much of the sound.

Now here comes the obligatory battle of the pep bands with the Texas group piping in with "Deep in the Heart of Texas."

- AP Sports Writer Jim Vertuno

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FRIDAY, March 28:

HOUSTON - Stanford's Brook Lopez is scoring at will but still looks troubled. He can get just about any shot he wants within 8 feet - he scored 24 of the Cardinal's first 48 points - but is definitly getting frustrated by the beating he's taking from Longhorns Dexter Pittman and crew. And who wouldn't? Pittman is 6-foot-11 and weighs about 300 pounds.

When Pittman denied an entry pass to Lopez, then came off him to block a shot in the lane, Lopez scowled at the officials, looking for a foul that hasn't been whistled the entire game.

- AP Sports Writer Jim Vertuno

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HOUSTON - Trent Johnson is keeping his temper in check and has managed to stay in the game against Texas. The Stanford coach was ejected late in the first half of the Cardinal's win over Marquette that got it to the regional final and faced a wave of criticism for it.

He's managed to stay calm tonight even when the whistles don't go his way. That's not to say he's been pleased with everything. There have been more than a few piercing stares toward the officials and some back-and-forth conversation.

But if the name of the game is staying in the game, Johnson is doing it just right this time.

- AP Sports Writer Jim Vertuno

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HOUSTON - Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young is in the crowd. He's a former Texas player and a Houston native. When he came to the arena about an hour before the game, a UT official was taking him in the back way to avoid the crowds and autograph seekers (he's practically royality in this city).

When a security guard tried to stop him, several others came over and started taking their pictures with him. Mr. Young was politely allowed to pass on through.

- AP Sports Writer Jim Vertuno

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HOUSTON - OK, here comes that Texas crowd. It just took the Longhorns building a big lead for it to rev up. The "Texas Fight!" cheer is rolling through the arena now that the Longhorns are up 75-56 with just over 2 minutes to play.

Brook Lopez has all but disappeared. His basket that pulled the Cardinal within 52-48 with more than 12 minutes to play was his last. It looks like Stanford didn't expect Texas to muscle up and rebound so well under the basket.

- AP Sports Writer Jim Vertuno

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THURSDAY, March 27:

So, John Calipari can take a joke about Memphis' poor free-throwing shooting.

The Tigers coach playfully interrupted Texas coach Rick Barnes who was talking with a gaggle of reporters, then tried to dash away.

Barnes, always joker, couldn't resist and wasn't about to let him get away:

"I'm going to do a clinic in Austin and I need a free-throwing shooting coach," Barnes said.

Calipari shot right back: "I think your point guard shot that airball." He was referring to Texas star D.J. Augustin's stunning misfire in the final two seconds of last week's win over Miami.

"That's what I'm talking about," Barnes said. "I can't coach it."

Later, a reporter asked Barnes if Calipari had accepted the job.

"Not yet," Barnes said.

- AP Sports Writer Jim Vertuno

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WEDNESDAY, March 26:

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Plenty of people have tried to describe North Carolina's Tyler Hansbrough and his relentless drive this season. But few have captured the All-American nicknamed "Psycho T" quite like Washington State's Aron Baynes did Wednesday, the day before the teams play in the NCAA tournament's round of 16.

Baynes, a native of Cairns, Australia, was asked about what it would take to stop Hansbrough inside. He responded by saying that it would be a big challenge and that the 6-foot-9 forward "throws his body around a lot down there, kind of like a thrashing croc in the paint."

The comment drew plenty of chuckles from reporters - many of whom are starting to run out of ways to describe Hansbrough's play - attending the Cougars' news conference at Charlotte Bobcats Arena.

So was the comparison fair? North Carolina point guard Ty Lawson figured it was.

"I can see why he says that - I watch the 'Crocodile Hunter,'" Lawson said. "I've seen him thrashing, so I can see where he gets that from."

- AP Sports Writer Aaron Beard

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SUNDAY, March 23:

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Note to NCAA programmers: Better check what makes for a good Song of the South.

During a break at today's Butler-Tennessee game, they held a little name-that-tune contest. A fight song was piped over the sound system and four schools were posted on the scoreboard - fans could guess which college it belonged to.

Maybe if the answer was Fresno State or Marquette, it might've been a challenge. But here in SEC country, everyone knew it was Florida's "The Orange and the Blue." And no one seemed too happy about that.

Not the Tennessee fans and certainly not the 'Bama folks. They've heard that rally cry too much over the years and are tired of those swaggerin', chompin', championship-winnin' Gators.

Before the answer was revealed, a few people started booing. Then more joined in and soon the whole arena was booing.

At least the Tennessee band had the good sense to blare out a chorus of "Rocky Top."

To the Vols, that was a high note.

- AP National Writer Ben Walker

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SATURDAY, March 22:

OMAHA, Neb. - Michael Beasley isn't saying where his next game will be, but it sure looked as though he was telling everyone goodbye.

With his Kansas State team on the way to a 72-55 loss to Wisconsin in the second round of the NCAA tournament, Beasley and the remaining starters were pulled out with just over a minute remaining to let some of the bench-warmers get a little playing time.

Beasley, who had 23 points and 13 rebounds, hugged a couple of teammates while still on the court, then embraced a few more when he got to the bench. The crowd gave him a standing ovation, even the fans from rival Kansas sitting behind the K-State bench (of course, maybe they were just cheering the likelihood of not having to face him again).

Afterward, Beasley refused to confirm what most expect.

"As of right now, I'm a Kansas State Wildcat," he said. "I haven't put any thought into what I'm going to do next year. You're all asking me these questions after a big loss. I have had no time to think about my decision. I'm not going to think or contemplate about it for another couple weeks."

But don't pass that off as Beasley wavering. It's impossible to envision any scenario in which the 6-foot-10 forward stays in school after one brilliant season with the Wildcats. He's certainly got the game to play at the next level right now.

Goodbye, Mr. Beasley.

It was fun while it lasted.

- AP National Writer Paul Newberry

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OMAHA, Neb. - I just had a flashback to last weekend.

Wisconsin was bringing the ball up the court against Kansas State when a piece of black cloth fell from the ceiling at the Qwest Center. I'm not sure where it came from, but knowing the NCAA it was probably being used to cover up the sign of some company that's not an official sponsor.

Anyway, play was halted with just over 8 minutes remaining in the game to remove the cloth, and the teams got back to their game. But, as I told colleague Eric Olson, I got my fill of stuff falling from the ceiling during a basketball game at the Southeastern Conference tournament in Atlanta.

I was at courtside during the Alabama-Mississippi State game when a tornado struck the Georgia Dome, causing bolts, insulation and debris to fall from the roof. The final game of the night was postponed and the rest of the tournament moved to Georgia Tech because of damage to the dome.

Fortunately, that one piece of cloth was the only thing that fell on the court in Omaha, and I haven't heard any talk of tornadoes in the area.

I'm pretty sure we'll be able to get in the second game between top-seeded Kansas and UNLV.

- AP National Writer Paul Newberry

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FRIDAY, March 21:

OMAHA, Neb. - Remember UNLV? The Runnin' Rebels are making quite a comeback, though they're not doing it with the flare of the Jerry Tarkanian era.

Maybe that's because coach Lon Kruger doesn't bite on a towel or have a snazzy nickname like "Tark the Shark."

But UNLV reached the Sweet 16 last season - its deepest run in the NCAA tournament since a loss to Duke in the 1991 semifinals ruined a perfect season - and the team is off to a good start this year with an easy win over Kent State in the opening round.

The Rebels aren't expected to make it to the second weekend this year, not with top-seeded Kansas waiting in the second round Saturday. But don't out the team from Sin City just yet.

What UNLV lacks in size (the tallest starter is 6-foot-7) they make up for in quickness and athleticism. And they've also got some pretty big names cheering them.

Larry Johnson, the star of those teams in the early '90s, attended the opening-round victory. And other big names from the glory days are starting to come back around a program that fell off the college basketball map after Tarkanian left.

"Obviously it's very important for us to be able to have interaction with these guys, with Larry Johnson and Greg Anthony and all the former players who have come back to UNLV and spent time at practice, hanging around with us," senior Curtis Terry said.

"We're trying to rebuild the program and do the things they did in the late '80 and early '90s to get UNLV back to the national stage," he added. "And the last couple of years since the (Kruger) coaching staff has been here, we've definitely done that."

Here's something else to consider: If UNLV can win two more games, Kansas State might be waiting in the regional finals. And where did Kruger first come to prominence as a head coach? That would be Kansas State, a team he led to the Elite Eight way back in 1988.

Hmmm, it looks like both a coach and his program could come full circle before this tournament is done.

- AP National Writer Paul Newberry

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ANAHEIM, Calif. - Disneyland happens to be one of Stanford center Robin Lopez's favorite places, and not just because he's a big (7-foot) kid. Lopez enjoys animation and is something of an authority on Walt Disney.

Odd, then, that the Cardinal opened the NCAA tournament in the Honda Center, not far from the Happiest Place on Earth. Third-seeded Stanford meets No. 6-seeded Marquette in the second round of the South Region on Saturday.

"It is awfully coincidental," said Lopez, who said he won't visit the park this week.

Lopez was asked if he liked Disneyland better as a child or a grown-up.

"That's hard to say," he said. "As a kid, when I was little, I remember it seemed like there were no boundaries to the park. It just seemed like it went on and on forever. It really blurred the line between what was real and what was fantasy. Now that I'm older, I appreciate what they're doing and how they do it. It's really incredible stuff."

Naturally, someone wanted to know if Lopez was familiar with "Cinderella," the term often used to describe underdogs in the NCAAs,

As it turned out, he was more than familiar. He's read some of the original versions.

"It's interesting you bring that up," Lopez said to a reporter. "It's a story Walt Disney really...that was his favorite film because he felt it embodied him the most, the story of rags-to-riches."

Once his playing days are over, Lopez may become an animator or artist. He said he's working on a project inspired by Michelangelo's "The Last Judgment."

"It's just pencil-and-ink, and it's kind of a version of 'The Last Judgment' slash 'The Gates of Hell,' " Lopez said.

"That's a sculpture on the Stanford campus by Rodin," Lopez added, realizing that he was talking to a group of sports writers.

- AP Sports Writer Andrew Bagnato

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OMAHA, Neb. - Fans of one-and-done teams here shouldn't plan on getting a huge windfall from scalping second-round tickets for Saturday - Omaha police are cracking down.

Undercover officers arrested eight people here yesterday for scalping the toughest non-Hannah Montana ticket in town this year, citing them for misdemeanors.

"We've done it for the College World Series and for other major events," said officer Bill Dropinski, who said the NCAA had not asked police to set up the sting.

Dropinski wouldn't say how badly the tickets were marked up, but StubHub.com is selling seats for the Kansas-UNLV/Wisconsin-Kansas State double bill for anywhere from $275 to $530.

The few tickets that actually made it to the public at face value were sold at $159 for the whole weekend - a total of six games. That works out to $26.50 a game. But the only locals who could buy seats - Creighton season ticketholders - had to pay for the full weekend pass.

Fake tickets haven't been a problem, Dropinski said, but undercover officers plan to be on the streets again for the second round.

- Associated Press Writer Oskar Garcia

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OMAHA, Neb. - Well, Day 2 of this tournament sure surpassed Day 1 real fast in terms of excitement. Nice shot, Ty Rogers, you've just become a Western Kentucky hero and taken the tourney's top highlight spot.

Though it's an off day here in this part of the Midwest regional, you can bet that many players are tuning in and catching some other teams.

Kansas' players say they're focused on one thing only: that elusive national title.

But that hasn't stopped guard Sherron Collins from enjoying some non-Jayhawk action just like everyone else.

"We're amazed - amazed when upsets happen, teams win when they're not supposed to win," said the sophomore guard after catching some of Davidson's upset over Gonzaga. "We're taking a day off and enjoying it."

Collins says he likes to watch his friends that play on other teams. They haven't done well so far.

Kent State's Chris Singletary lost big to UNLV, Kansas' next opponent, and Gonzaga's Jeremy Pargo put up 18 points in the loss to Davidson.

"I feel sorry for him right now," Collins said of Pargo.

- Associated Press Writer Oskar Garcia

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Sometimes it's downright un-American to root against the underdog.

And we're not talking about pulling for Belmont over Duke. American University had a small, noisy, downright giddy contingent for the Eagles' first NCAA tournament game Friday against No. 2 seed Tennessee. They were surrounded by all that Vols' orange, but happy nonetheless.

"We're certainly not one of those jaded teams," said Denise Nichols outside the arena shortly before tip-off. "We're very excited about the opportunity."

Her son, Jordan, is a reserve forward for American, which won the Patriot League. Some 120 students traveled to the game in two buses from the school, which for the uninitiated is in Washington, D.C.

Where else?

"I hear people say, 'Where is American?'" said Alvin, Denise's husband and an American alum. Not as many lately though. "People are starting to know."

After all, a sign in the small section of fans proclaimed this "America's Team." Sorry, Dallas Cowboys. This is tourney time.

Besides, this isn't a basketball (or football) factory. It's a school. These guys really are student-athletes, in that order. "They're really smart," Denise promises.

Meeting the pleasant couple was a highlight of the three-minute walk from the hotel to the Civic Center, an orange-filled stroll this morning through fans, scalpers and even a preacher. There was a grandfatherly looking man in khakis and a blue button-up hoisting a sign "Jesus Lord of All or Hell Awaits You." A hundred feet further was a Vols fan with a sticker proclaiming "I Love Hooters."

There's room for all types.

- Associated Press Writer John Zenor

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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Chris Lofton is known as a 3-point shooter but, man, you should see the guy dribble.

The Tennessee senior, warming up before Friday morning's opener against American in Birmingham, Ala., spent a few minutes dribbling two basketballs simultaneously.

And we're not talking a few slow bounces.

While his teammates started warmups with a few soft bunnies and lazy dunks, Lofton dropped down into a crouch and pounded both balls against the floor at game pace.

He then passed the balls from hand to hand and finished off by snaking them through his legs, never losing rhythm.

If that NBA thing doesn't work out, maybe he'll get a tryout with the Harlem Globetrotters.

- Associated Press Writer Chris Talbott

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THURSDAY, March 20:

OMAHA, Neb. - Maybe there was something to O.J. Mayo's NBA-logo socks tonight.

The Southern California star's attire just fired up Kansas State even more.

He never left the floor, but was held to an average shooting performance that hardly made him look ready for the pros.

There, ladies and gents, is the first upset of this year's NCAA tournament, thanks to Kansas State's defense.

"The man-to-man defense was aggressive - I think they got us out of the flow of our offense," Mayo said. "Maybe certain shots that we took were maybe rushed, and give credit to Kansas State."

Mayo - widely projected as a lottery pick in the June NBA draft - hit a couple of meaningless baskets in the closing minutes, but by that time the Wildcats had built a double-digit lead. He was unable to deliver in the game's biggest moments.

Mayo was guarded man-to-man by several Wildcats, but mainly Dominique Sutton, another freshman starting in just his sixth game for the Wildcats.

"Me and him, it wasn't nothing new," said Sutton, who said he knew several of Mayo's moves from playing with him previously in an amateur summer league. "I just tried to stay in front of him and contain him as much as possible."

As for Mayo's socks, Sutton said he noticed them toward the end of the game, but didn't think too much of it.

He didn't have to by that point.

- Associated Press Writer Oskar Garcia

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DENVER - One of the longest-running jokes between writers who've covered the NCAA tournament over the last several years isn't such a joke anymore.

It's the NCAA's longstanding practice of having us put every ounce of food and drink into blue cups that read `Dasani' before we head out to press row.

Looks great on TV.

Can't be real good for the environment.

The drill usually goes like this: Reporter brings a cup of coffee, a Coke or (God forbid) a Pepsi from home into arena. Reporter heads to press row with beverage in tow. Reporter is stopped by friendly arena security and asked to pour beverage into NCAA-sanctioned cup and throw away original container.

Just today, while walking to press row with a colleague, I witnessed him get stopped and asked to pour his beverage into a sanctioned cup. The container he threw away (not into a recycling bin, by the way): A `Dasani' bottle. That makes sense.

In past years, I've seen a colleague who will go unmentioned (hello, Paul Newberry) eat a piece of cake out of a `Dasani' cup.

Yesterday, even though there were no games, no cameras at the Pepsi Center, another colleague was stopped and asked to pour her coffee from a plain, brown cup into a `Dasani' cup. She chose instead to stand there and drink it from her own cup before she went to press row.

This is an especially timely issue here in Denver because the Pepsi Center will host the Democratic convention in August and, in a wise PR move, is making a newly concerted effort to "go green."

On Monday, St. Patrick's Day, Colorado's governor touted a number of environmentally friendly initiatives the Pepsi Center will use over the coming months to become the greenest arena in America. Another arena executive said officials here are committed to "a 100 percent `green-up' of the Pepsi Center."

Wonder what they'd say about all that needless trash the NCAA is creating in the quest to milk a few more bucks from sponsors.

- AP National Writer Eddie Pells.

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OMAHA, Neb. - Who'd have thought the 8-9 game would feel more lopsided than the 1-16? This is brutal.

Sure, UNLV's 21-point halftime lead over Kent State isn't as big as the 23-point lead Kansas took over Portland State in the first frame - but at least the Vikings could score the ball (sometimes).

As the second half opens, Kent State has 10 points. Wink Adams has 11 for UNLV.

The Golden Flashes haven't hit any 3-pointers or free throws, but they have 17 turnovers. I've seen gym rats handle the ball better.

Analysts talk about good assist-to-turnover ratios, but when your points-to-turnover ratio is well under one, you don't have a prayer.

I wonder what the Golden Flashes were like in the locker room at the half.

- Associated Press Writer Oskar Garcia.

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OMAHA, Neb. - Less than four minutes have passed in the Kansas-Portland State game, and Portland State is clearly overmatched.

After seeing a few Jayhawk dunks sure to run throughout the day on highlight reels, Portland State coach Ken Bone called a timeout with the score 11-3. But here's the thing - while Kansas spent the timeout huddled together strategizing, Bone couldn't have said more than one or two things to his guys.

What's the deal, coach? Why are your guards just standing on the floor waiting for the TV commercials to end while you chat it up with one of the referees?

I realize you just wanted to stop the bleeding, but can you at least PRETEND that you can have a chance at hanging with Kansas in this game? Your players look like they're waiting for someone to tie his shoes.

Oh well, at least your band is excellent.

- Associated Press Writer Oskar Garcia.

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WEDNESDAY, March 19:

OMAHA, Neb. - So, I'm standing in the tunnel beneath the Qwest Center, towering over a guy who will be on the court at the NCAA tournament.

I can't wait to see how Jeremiah Dominguez - all 5-foot-6 of him - holds up against top-seeded Kansas on Thursday.

That's not a misprint.

Portland State's best player stopped growing at 5 1/2 feet, which will put him as a major disadvantage against the Jayhawks' taller, more athletic guards.

"I'd like to exaggerate and say he's 5-8 or 5-9," Vikings coach Ken Bone said, "but he's 5-6. Knowing that Mario Chalmers is 6-1 and (Russell Robinson) is 6-1, that's like a 6-6 kid playing against a 7-1 kid. It makes it difficult."

But Dominguez isn't intimidated by the Jayhawks, not after the long, winding road he took to March Madness.

Standing outside the Portland State locker room, swallowed up by all those giant sportswriters (I check in at a smidgen over 6 feet), he recounted one of those little-known stories that make the first round of the tournament so interesting, if not necessarily competitive.

Coming out of high school, Dominguez was chatted up by big-time programs such as Gonzaga and Oregon, but none of them wanted to waste a scholarship on such a height-challenged player.

"They wanted me to walk on," Dominguez recalled. "They knew I was good, but I only weighed about 135 pounds. I didn't even have any facial hair."

He wound up signing with the University of Portland but struggled with his grades and a lack of playing time. After two years, Dominguez transferred to crosstown Portland State, sat out a season, then moved right into the starting lineup. He topped the Vikings in scoring (14.3 points a game) and assists (4.1), leading them to the first NCAA appearance in school history.

"People look at me like a little kid out there," Dominguez said. "They're going to be surprised at how well I handle the ball."

Of course, Kansas will provide a slightly different level of competition than he faced in the Big Sky Conference.

I can't wait to see how it turns out.

- AP National Writer Paul Newberry.

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OMAHA, Neb. - Kansas coach Bill Self says you shouldn't depend on making shots to win games.

Huh?

"Shooting is a part of playing well - no doubt about that. But as a coach, to me it's a good or bad shot when it leaves your hand," he said. "You can run a good offense and miss an open 15-footer or you can run a bad offense and make a guarded 21-footer. Which one's the better possession? From a coach's standpoint the miss is probably the better possession."

Alright, I can take an open 15-footer and miss it pretty reliably. So what prevents me or anyone else from running full court with Brandon Rush, Mario Chalmers and the other Jayhawks?

"First-shot defense. Rebounding. Taking care of the ball. Stealing possessions. Getting 70 percent of the 50-50 balls," Self said. "That, to me, is what you do consistently night in and night out."

Hmmm. So being really, really good at H-O-R-S-E won't do the trick.

"If you have to bank on making shots in order to win, then you probably are going to have a night where you don't and you lose," Self said. "We just don't emphasize that. We just try to take good ones."

Because the Jayhawks didn't simulate scrums for loose balls, they turned to the next best drill at the end of today's practice - crowd-pleasing dunks.

Who wants to watch around the world when you can see Rush throw down a windmill or Darrell Arthur's between-the-legs jam?

- Associated Press Writer Oskar Garcia

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OMAHA, Neb. - You know what's the best part of being at the arena the day before the NCAA tournament starts? You get to watch practices that at times resemble an NBA dunking contest.

With their game plans in place and not wanting to reveal any secrets at practices that are open to fans AND the media (a coach's nightmare), teams take advantage of their hour-long workouts to try out plenty of moves that won't be seen in the game.

Southern California was the most entertaining of the eight teams that practiced at the Qwest Center before Thursday's opening round, though everyone got in plenty of alley-oops and half-court shots.

Trojans star O.J. Mayo threw down a couple of thunderous jams, but it was another USC freshman, backup Mamadou Diarra, who really had the building buzzing.

The 7-footer, showing amazing athleticism for someone his size, tried one dunk after taking the ball between his legs, only to have it bounce off the back of the rim. Not satisfied, Diarra took off the down the middle of the court, trying the same move. This time, he slammed it home. The crowd roared, while Diarra threw his right hand in the air and let out a loud "Woooooooo!"

The Trojans weren't done. They went for dunks on balls throws off the front of the backboard, and even off the sides. They were for windmills and reverses and soar-through-the-air-like-MJ jams.

Finally, coach Tim Floyd blew his whistle and everyone gathered at the foul lines. It was time to shoot free throws.

Boooring.

- AP National Writer Paul Newberry.

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