A Shot Away
Can Huge Stadium Affect Shooting?
Arlington, Texas — The doors to AT&T Stadium opened to reporters at 9 a.m. on Thursday and the first sounds that could be heard were Kevin Ollie’s voice, reverberating throughout the cavernous arena.
From the distant concourse, UConn players and coaches looked tiny as they ran up and down the court that has been placed on the floor of a massive NFL stadium built for the Dallas Cowboys.
“I really appreciate the NCAA giving us this opportunity,” Ollie said. “In 2011 down in Houston, we didn’t have the 90-minute practice. This really allows our players to see the ball going in, and we all want to see that.
“Just seeing them get used to it and relaxed and shooting in a venue like this is a great opportunity for us.”
The Huskies, who played Florida in a national semifinal on Saturday, have three players who have, at least, played a game in a football stadium. The seniors played at Houston’s Reliant Stadium in the 2011 Final Four, where the Huskies won a championship game notable for its lack of offense.
UConn shot 29 percent, 19-for-55 from the field and 1-for-11 on three-point attempts to beat Butler, which shot 18.8 percent, 12-for-64 and 9-for-33 on threes. After the Huskies’ 53-41 victory, there were questions about the wisdom of playing the most important games of the year in a setting that was so radically different from the normal college basketball arena.
Evidence, though, suggests over the longer period of time — the Final Four has been played in football-sized domed arenas since 1996 — that shooting percentages are not much different. In the semifinals in 2011, UConn shot 46.9 percent in a 56-55 win over Kentucky, which shot 33.9 percent.
Louisville shot 46 percent, and was 8-for-16 on three-pointers to beat Michigan in the championship game in 2013 at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Michigan shot 52 percent.
Since 2009, the NCAA has devised the current configuration for venues like AT&T, where the court is in the center of the football field, and elevated, with temporary seats around it.
The teams were given chances to practice, on Thursday as well as Friday, and during the shoot-around today before the semifinal games.
Florida played regional semifinal and final games in this stadium in 2013, beating Florida Gulf Coast and shooting 41 percent in a loss to Michigan.
“We had the opportunity to play here last year,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said, “so for a lot of our guys it’s a familiar place. I think there’s enough time to get ready to play in this type of venue, because it is a little bit different.
“Everybody is dealing with the same type of thing, we’ve all been given the opportunity to come out there and shoot and see what the building is like.”
Many players, of course, grow up playing outdoors. During the course of their careers at UConn, the veteran players have played in big stadiums like this, in low-ceilinged hotel ballrooms converted into basketball arenas and, at Ramstein Air Base in 2012, in a giant airplane hangar-turned-arena in Germany.
The depth-perception adjustment that must be made shooting in an arena this size is only one element. There will be at least 70,000 fans inside the stadium for the game, or seven times a packed Gampel Pavilion, 3 ½ times a packed Madison Square Garden. It will be bright and loud, as well as airy.
“That’s the most important thing,” UConn’s Niels Giffey said. “You can’t be too impressed with everything that’s going on, the gym, the different crowd that’s going to be out there and all the attention that’s focused on you.”
The Huskies, who arrived Tuesday, practiced at SMU’s facility Wednesday. On Thursday, the 1,300 reporters c
redentialed for the Final Four began to gather at AT&T for the first of the long line of press conferences and other media obligations. Giffey, one of the seniors, has seen it all before.
“It’s kind of tough to manage those first days,” he said. “You have to stay focused on what you got to do on the court. So just stay with your group as much as you can, stay with your teammates.”
“That’s really what I’m trying to tell my younger guys that haven’t been here before, just try to have fun, enjoy this moment as much as you can.”