FINALS WATCH: 'Russdiculous,' Beilein followers
ATLANTA (AP) — Around the Final Four and its host city with journalists from The Associated Press bringing the flavor and details of everything surrounding the games.
Russ Smith has a reputation for being a little, shall we say, out there. This, after all, is the player whose nickname is "Russdiculous." He's never met a shot he didn't like, and his antics drove coach Rick Pitino to distraction his first year at Louisville.
And that exuberance isn't limited to the court.
Pitino was talking Sunday about the passion his players have for the other sports at Louisville. After mentioning that Gorgui Dieng goes to every women's game, Pitino said Smith had been something of a super fan for a women's soccer game.
"Russ Smith took off all his clothes — except his underpants, of course — and painted his body red for a women's soccer game in the cold," Pitino said.
Smith was quite proud to confirm Pitino's story, nodding his head and giving a big thumbs up.
"Now you know what I'm coaching," Pitino said, smiling.
— Nancy Armour — http://twitter.com/@nrarmour
CALL ME SPIKE
Spike Albrecht has an actual first name. Outside of his mother, no one uses it.
Heck, there are plenty of people who don't even know his given name is Michael.
"I write Spike on my papers, my tests," Michigan's freshman guard said Sunday. "My teachers call me Spike."
The nickname came from the first pair of baseball spikes that Albrecht got when he was about 5 years old.
"I was a big baseball fan," he says. "I started wearing them everywhere. I was wearing them out to eat, to go to church and stuff like that. It's kind of embarrassing. So people started calling me Spike. And here I am, a freshman in college, and it still sticks."
During the Final Four, his actual name is used in the program and on the box scores given out to the media. Albrecht figures there's at least one person who is pleased with that development.
"My mom still calls me Michael," he says. "She's got to. She's my mom."
— Paul Newberry — http://twitter.com/@pnewberry1963
John Beilein will have plenty of fans in the crowd Monday night when his Michigan team takes on Louisville for the national title.
And some of them don't even have much of a connection to Michigan.
"We have several players here. Two LeMoyne players are here. I've heard from Erie Community College players, Canisius players," Beilein said, rattling off a few of his previous seven coaching stops. He has also coached at Nazareth, Richmond, West Virginia, and of course, Michigan.
Beilein's best NCAA tournament run before this season was a quarterfinal appearance with West Virginia in 2005. The Mountaineers finally lost to ... Rick Pitino's Louisville team. Now it's Beilein vs. Pitino again for even bigger stakes.
— Noah Trister — http://twitter.com/@noahtrister
Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said 'thank you' to Shockers fans on Sunday by taking out a full-page advertisement in the hometown newspaper, The Wichita Eagle.
The Shockers were eliminated by Louisville in the Final Four on Saturday night.
The advertisement is almost entirely black — the school colors are black and yellow — with the Shockers' logo above the words in white that say, "Thank you, Shocker faithful."
There is a reproduction of Marshall's signature, and at the bottom of the page, the school's Twitter and Facebook handles accompany the words, "We keep marching."
This was Wichita State's first trip to the Final Four since 1965.
— Dave Skretta — http://twitter.com/@APdaveskretta
DIVISION II CHAMPS
Drury is the Division II national champion.
Alex Hall made two free throws with 22 seconds left to complete a long, methodical rally from a 17-point hole and help Drury beat Metro State 74-73 on Sunday in the NCAA tournament final.
Metro State had a chance to win the game, but Mitch McCarron and Brandon Jefferson both missed shots underneath the rim in the closing seconds, and the buzzer sounded and confetti started to fly as Drury ran to center court and began to celebrate its national title.
The Panthers overcame 19 turnovers to win the championship.
"What an unbelievable championship game," said NCAA President Mark Emmert, who awarded the trophy to the school from Springfield, Mo.
— Dave Skretta
DIVISION III CHAMPS
The Amherst Lord Jeffs have won their second Division III men's basketball national championship, defeating Mary Hardin-Baylor 87-70 at Phillips Arena.
There's no better nickname in Atlanta than the one sported by Amherst, which is playing in the Division III championship game at Philips Arena. Ladies and gentlemen, the Lord Jeffs.
The school and its namesake town in Massachusetts were named after Lord Jeffery Amherst, a famed officer in the British Army during the 1700s. Hence, the unique moniker for the college's athletic teams.
— Paul Newberry
SUPER BOWL, REDUX
It was somewhat of a Super Bowl redux at the Division III championship game.
Amherst and Mary Hardin-Baylor were just starting the second half Sunday when a bank of lights inside Philips Arena went dark. There were enough lights still on that officials didn't immediately halt the game, but they huddled at the scorer's table during the first dead ball.
The officials met with coaches from both teams and decided to play on, even though the lights hadn't come back on. It was still bright enough to continue with the game.
Amherst led 46-39 when the lights went out.
— Dave Skretta
Future Louisville players aren't going to be too happy with Peyton Siva.
Cardinals coach Rick Pitino likes his players to limit their outside distractions, which is why he highly "encourages" them not to use social media sites like Twitter. But Instagram isn't really on Pitino's radar — at least, it wasn't before Sunday.
"I'm going to mess it up for the guys who are coming in," Siva said. "He doesn't really know anything about Instagram yet. That's why we get away with that."
Sure enough, if you check the Twitter feeds of the Louisville players, there's not much there. (Except for Kevin Ware, but he's a national celebrity now.) Instagram, however, is a different story, with many of the Cardinals posting dozens of pictures of themselves and their teammates.
"He can't tell me not to do it because I'm leaving tomorrow," said Siva, a senior. "So I'm good."
— Nancy Armour
NOT SINCE MICHAEL JORDAN
It has been 31 years since we've seen a national semifinals like we witnessed Saturday night.
The last time all three Final Four games were decided by five points or fewer was 1982. On Saturday, Louisville rallied to beat Wichita State 72-68 and Michigan held on to beat Syracuse 61-56.
It was a welcome change for anyone bored by those three regional finals last weekend that ended in blowouts.
The last time both games where that close North Carolina beat Houston 68-63 in one semifinal, and Georgetown edged Louisville 50-46 in the other. Then the Tar Heels won the title 63-62 on Michael Jordan's jumper.
— Noah Trister
The Louisville women's team will be getting plenty of cheers in Atlanta.
Turns out, the men are big fans.
Both Louisville teams made it to the Final Four. The men already advanced to the championship game in Atlanta with a semifinal victory over Wichita State; the women are facing California in a semifinal at New Orleans on Sunday night.
The men were on a bus leaving Indianapolis when the women pulled off one of the biggest upsets in the history of their NCAA tournament, beating Brittney Griner and defending national champion Baylor 82-81 in the regional semifinals.
"We were yelling at the little TVs," guard Petyon Siva said. "We were on the bus jumping up and down."
Siva and several of his teammates attended every women's game they could when both teams were in Louisville.
"I think they're exciting to watch," he said. "A lot of people say they don't like girls basketball. I love watching them play, just their heart and hustle. They're basically a carbon copy of us. They go out there and play with a lot of energy. They go out and play without a lot of flash. They just get the job done."
— Paul Newberry
O'CONNELL: 35 YEARS
Covering his 35th Final Four, AP Basketball Writer Jim O'Connell was honored by the NCAA and the Final Four coaches Saturday in Atlanta.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino presented the man many call "Oc" with a basketball signed by the Final Four coaching brethren: Pitino, Jim Boeheim, John Beilein and Gregg Marshall.
"Jimmy. The Best," was the message Boeheim wrote.
Reporters gave O'Connell a standing ovation at the ceremony, held during Sunday's interview sessions to preview the national title game.
A pretty cool moment for our veteran, who began his run at the 1979 Final Four. You may remember 1979 as the year Larry Bird faced off with Magic Johnson.
On Monday, the 35th anniversary of that classic game, Louisville plays Michigan and O'Connell will be at his normal station, on press row, breaking it down the way only he can.
—Eddie Pells — http://twitter.com/@epells
Louisville will be playing for its third national championship on Monday night.
The Cardinals are 2-0 in championship games, beating UCLA in 1980 and Duke in 1996. Coach Rick Pitino's team will take a 15-game winning streak into the final. It is Louisville's longest streak since the 2003-04 season.
The last team to beat the Cardinals was Notre Dame, in overtime, on Feb. 9.
But Cardinals center Gorgui Dieng said Sunday that going 3-0 will depend on how effective Louisville's press is against Michigan.
"We could not win without our pressure," Dieng said.
Louisville's come-from-behind 72-68 semifinal victory was its 34th of the season, a school record for wins.
— Charles Odum — http://twitter.com/@CharlesOdum
Drury and Metro State fans received a little extra motivation to pump up the volume at their Division II national championship game Sunday at Philips Arena.
In addition to free admission to the game, it was announced during the contest that two tickets to Monday night's Louisville-Michigan matchup would be awarded to the loudest fans. That news brought a few extra cheers.
It could mean an extra day in Atlanta for a couple of lucky fans instead of heading back to Drury in Springfield, Mo., or Metro State in Denver on Monday.
Drury had the definite advantage in the stands, with several sections of fans wearing the Panthers' red.
— Charles Odum
Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed will lead up to 3,000 kids who will dribble basketballs on a one-mile trek through downtown Atlanta on Sunday.
Those taking part in the Final Four Dribble will make their down Andrew Young International Boulevard through the heart of events that are part of the national semifinals.
They picked a great day — it's sunny, 70-degrees in Atlanta once again.
— Charles Odum
Wichita State guard Nick Wiggins' season ended Saturday night. The recruiting of his talented younger brother is ongoing.
He hears the question two or three times a day — "Where's your brother going to school?" — and Nick said it's usually from someone with a rooting interest in Kentucky, Florida State or Kansas.
Nick's brother, 6-foot-7 swingman Andrew Wiggins, a senior at West Virginia's Huntington Prep, happens to be one of the top-ranked players in the class of 2013.
There's also another Wiggins hooping it up: Mitchell, the oldest brother, plays for Southeastern University, an NAIA school in Lakeland, Fla.
It appears that Andrew is the best of the basketball-playing bunch, though.
"He deserves all the attention," said Nick, who thinks his brother will announce his college choice in the next couple weeks. "We've still been talking about it, rapping about it, and we're just going to try to help him make the best decision."
— Dave Skretta
NCAA Finals Watch follows the Final Four games and all the activities surrounding the event as seen by journalists from The Associated Press from across Atlanta. It will be updated throughout the day with breaking news and other items of interest. Follow AP reporters on Twitter where available.