March Madness at Ball Arena: Playing on Nikola Jokic’s home court?

March Madness at Ball Arena: Playing on Nikola Jokic’s home court?

Even as a 14 seed, UC Santa Barbara wasn’t “just happy to be here.” Although freshman guard Matija Belic admitted to being more than just happy to be at Ball Arena — the Serbian counts Nuggets All-Star  Nikola Jokic as one of his hoops heroes.

“(It’s) awesome,” Belic told The Denver Post. “(It’s) amazing. I dreamed about it, to be able to play where (Jokic) performed every night.”

The 6-foot-7 Belic, who scored four points in six minutes off the bench Friday for the losing Gauchos, said he and his family often would wake up to watch Nuggets games in the middle of the night in order to catch the NBA’s two-time MVP.

“I love the way how he sees the game, how he reads the play, how he’s able to — even though he’s maybe not the best athlete on the court, even though he maybe (can’t) jump the highest, he way he reads the game, it’s unbelievable.”

Former Nugget’s son OK. Creighton forward Mason Miller, son of former Nuggets guard Mike Miller, left the Bluejays’ 72-63 win over North Carolina State about two minutes before halftime with an apparent ankle injury.

The 6-foot-9 freshman couldn’t put weight on his injured leg and had to be helped back to the Creighton locker room. Coach Greg McDermott said after the game that he was told it was a sprained ankle, but that the Jays wouldn’t be clear on its severity until Saturday morning.

Gaunchos coach on move? After UCSB unraveled in the second half of the No. 14 Gauchos’ 74-56 loss to No. 3 Baylor on Friday,  coach Joe Pasternack was asked about his candidacy for a Power 5 job. Most notably, Pasternack has been linked to the job at Cal, which recently fired head coach Mark Fox following the worst season in school history.

Pasternack reiterated his loyalty to UCSB, where the Gauchos have developed into a Big West power by winning the conference title two of the last three seasons. But he also left the door open by not outright saying that he wasn’t leaving.

“I love UC Santa Barbara, the community and everybody else (in the Gauchos’ program),” Pasternack said. “And I’m going recruiting tonight.”

Gotta be the shoes. McDermott’s March Madness game-day outfit was five months in the making.

Part of it, anyway. McDermott wore green Nike sneakers on the sidelines during the Blue Jays’ 72-63 win over North Carolina State.

McDermott said team administrative specialist John McKew ordered the shoes five months ago, “thinking we had a 50/50 chance if we made the NCAA Tournament to play on St. Pat’s Day.” Once Creighton landed in the back half of the first-round schedule, the new shoes were ready to go.

“Out of respect for (McKew), and because McDermott’s a pretty Irish name, we went with the green today,” McDermott said. “… Pretty good St. Pat’s Day for our Irish fans that followed us over here from Omaha. So I think they’re going to have a little fun tomorrow.”

N.C. State runs into foul trouble. In Friday’s loss to Creighton, the Wolfpack got into foul trouble early against Bluejays big man Ryan Kalkbrenner. DJ Burns and Ebeneezer Douwana both struggled to steer clear from the referee’s whistle, as both finished with four fouls and a combined four points.

“I mean, coming in we knew that he shot about 70% around the paint, so our job was to really keep him outside the paint,” Douwana said in the locker room following a 72-63 loss. “I felt like we started off pretty well doing that but we came up short at the end. It’s tough, you know?”

Regarding the referee’s short whistle, he thought it was tough to be as aggressive as they would like when guarding the crafty Kalkbrenner, who finished with 31 points.

“It was nothing that I was expecting that me and DJ were gonna be in foul trouble,” Douwana said. “Usually, it’s one of us that gets in foul trouble but not both of us. It was something that we never expected, for sure.”

Creighton’s Nembhard noticed Altitude. On the other side of the bench, Creighton guard Ryan Nembhard finished with 10 points, including eight in the second half. However, the first thing that stood out was Denver’s altitude.

“We didn’t even think it was a thing, nobody thought it was a thing,” Nembhard said. “Then, you got out there and the first six-seven minutes, you’re like ‘yo, I’m gassed’. That’s definitely a real thing out here and I didn’t know that.”

He also noticed the sea of blue that showed up at Ball Arena, a venue he enjoyed despite having to adjust to the mile-high madness.

“Today was great — our fans travel really well,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of faith in us, confidence in us and they think we can make a run. It’s good when you’ve got a lot of fans here supporting you. The atmosphere was great, I like the gym, and it’s a pretty cool atmosphere.”

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