The Cougars' first trip to the regional semifinals has brought Bennett back to Charlotte, where he played for parts of three seasons in the mid-1990s with the NBA's Hornets. He credited that experience for helping to shape his coaching philosophy.
The Hornets drafted Bennett in the second round in 1992 out of Wisconsin-Green Bay, and he averaged 3.5 points in 152 games from 1992-94 before a foot injury ended his career.
Among Bennett's most vivid memories of his years in Charlotte: mobbing Alonzo Mourning after his shot with 0.4 seconds left against Boston in the 1993 playoffs gave the Hornets their first postseason series victory in franchise history; going head-to-head with Muggsy Bogues in practice and routinely playing before sellout crowds at the since-demolished Charlotte Coliseum that embraced the city's first major professional sports team.
"The memories I have of just, night in and night out, playing in front of that crowd, getting to know (teammates Dell Curry, Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson) and just making the playoffs and being an up-and-coming team. It was real special," he said.
FULL CIRCLE: David Padgett left Kansas for Louisville the year after coach Roy Williams bolted for North Carolina. Now the Cardinals' big man might wind up playing against him this weekend.
When Padgett opted to transfer after his freshman season with the Jayhawks in 2003-04, one of the schools he considered was North Carolina.
"I loved him when I was recruiting him, because he was a big guy who could run, who could catch, who could pass, who had savvy," Williams said. "I think he's showing all of those things now."
During four seasons at Louisville, Padgett fought through multiple injuries -- including a broken kneecap earlier this season -- to become a unanimous all-Big East selection.
"Coach Williams and I have always had a great relationship, and I have great respect for him," Padgett said. "But it was just one of those situations where I felt that Louisville was going to be a better spot for me overall. It's just where I chose to go."
ROAD TRIPPING: Tennessee might have had some semblance of home-court advantage this weekend at Charlotte Bobcats Arena -- that is, if the top-seeded Tar Heels weren't also here.
Much has been made of North Carolina's proximity to its regional site. But they're just one of three teams here that have campuses located within a day's drive of the Charlotte area. Tennessee's campus in Knoxville is about 250 miles away, and Louisville is 500 miles northwest of the city.
Volunteers coach Bruce Pearl isn't a big believer in home-court advantage at this stage of the tournament, anyway.
"I don't think the crowd is going to do anything to intimidate Washington State, Louisville or Tennessee at this point," Pearl said. "We could play in Nashville, and there may be a few more folks in orange, and it could get hyped and it could catch fire. But it wouldn't intimidate a team that we're playing against."
CRIKEY!: Plenty of accolades have been showered upon North Carolina star forward Tyler Hansbrough this season. Washington State's Aron Baynes came up with a new one.
The Cougars' center, a native of Australia, likened Hansbrough to "a thrashing croc in the paint down there."
That comparison wasn't lost on Tar Heels point guard Ty Lawson.
"I can see why he says that -- I watch the 'Crocodile Hunter,"' Lawson quipped. "I've seen him thrashing, so I can see where he gets that from."
LAYUPS: One of Williams' concerns during the subregional in Raleigh was the large NCAA sticker at midcourt that he blamed for causing some players to slip. That won't be an issue here this weekend: logos and other floor markings are painted on the new court. ... Washington State's regional semifinal against the Tar Heels will be the school's first game in the state of North Carolina.