*After KU’s 107-67 blowout victory over Niagara, I walked back to the press work room when I spotted the Niagara Purple Eagles Pep Band in the hallways with purple painted over their faces. Well, at least I thought they were the Niagara Pep Band.
“We are the University of Dayton Pep Band,” Chris Hunter explained to me. “Three years ago, we were in Buffalo for the NCAA and Niagara was in Buffalo for the NIT, and we played for them then. Their AD found out that they were going to Dayton for the play-in game (on Tuesday night) so they called us because we had played for them already. She said, “Can we get you guys to play for us?’ We said, ‘Sure, just get us some shirts, makeup, your pep band.’ And we said, ‘If we win, we ‘ll come out and play against Kansas for you.’ We’re here, we drove in at 8 a.m. this morning, and we’re probably leaving at 8 a.m. tomorrow morning. (It’s) about four and a half, five-hour (drive back to Dayton). But it’s the Big Dance, we got a team to support that’s almost like our own.
”Hunter flashed a broad smile and walked away with his fellow Niagara band members. Oops, I meant his fellow Dayton band members...All for the love of the game.
*Freshman guard Brady Morningstar from Free State High School in Lawrence electrified the crowd with a one-handed thunder slam on a fast break with 3:43 remaining in the game. The dunk put KU over the century mark for the first time all season. With his family sitting right behind the KU bench, including Brady’s dad, Roger (Final Four standout on the 1974 KU team) and his mom, Linda, Brady’s teammates on the bench all cheered and turned to see the reaction of the Morningstar family. I asked the freshman in the locker room afterwards how it felt to have his own shining moment. Brady scored five points (two-of-four field goals) in seven minutes.
“Nah, it wasn’t my own shining moment,” he said humbly. “It was fun to get out there and play a little bit. Give credit to the guys who played the majority of minutes. Without them, we wouldn’t have been able to get out there and play.”
And how about that dunk, Brady? “It was just two points, but it was fun to get up there and put one down,” he said.
“Yeah, I think I surprised some people,” Brady added when I asked him him if most fans realize just how high he can sky. “I mean, you just look at me, I’m white and maybe I’m not that athletic.”
*Lawrence High product and KU walk-on Brennan Bechard played four minutes. He missed his only three-point attempt and was 0-for-2 from the free-throw line. However, Bechard got one rebound in his first ever NCAA game.
*Humboldt, Kan., native Brad Witherspoon was the last KU player to enter the game with 2:38 remaining. And appropriately enough, Witherspoon grabbed the game’s final rebound with five seconds left on a missed free throw by Niagara’s Greg Noel
*Just past 11:30 p.m. after a hard fought Kentucky win over Villanova, UK coach Tubby Smith, who has been under some heat in Lexington, walked right past me near the locker room. I glanced at him and thought to myself: “KU vs. Kentucky on Sunday. Oh how sweet it will be.”
*Okay, who are those two Niagara Hall of Famers? The first one ia Calvin Murphy, one of my favorites growing up when he played for the Houston Rockets. Maybe the best 5-9 guard the game has ever seen, Murphy played his last year at Niagara in 1970, and was elected into the Naismith Hall of Fame on May 10, 1993. His career scoring average at Niagara (33.2 ppg) ranks fourth in NCAA history behind Pete Maravich (LSU), Austin Carr (Notre Dame) and Oscar Robertson (Cincinnati). Murphy, one of the game’s all-time best free-thow shooters, played for the Rockets for 13 years and set team career records for points, games played, assists and steals. And yes, back as a junior at Niagara, Murphy set the national scoring mark against a Division I opponent with 68 points in a 118-110 win over Syracuse.
The second Hall of Famer with Niagara ties is Hubie Brown, who played at the school from 1951-55. But Brown made his name in coaching and later as a basketball TV analyst. Brown was named NBA Coach of the Year in 2004 and selected to the NBA Hall of Fame in 2005. And, on a side note, Brown gave former KU assistant coach Bob Hill (1979-85) his first NBA coaching job as Brown’s assistant with the New York Knicks in 1985. Brown also drafted former KU star Calvin “Pony” Thompson in the fourth round of the NBA draft in 1986.