Notebook: Badgers get acclimated to vast expanse of AT&T Stadium
ARLINGTON, Texas — Wisconsin’s players took to the AT&T Stadium court for a brief, 50-minute open practice on Friday afternoon. And though the event was done more for show — and for Badgers fans to get their pre-Final Four fix — it did serve at least one meaningful purpose.
Given that roughly 75,000 fans are expected in the building for Saturday’s Final Four games, the practice provided one more glimpse at the vast expanse Wisconsin will see before it tips off against Kentucky in a national semifinal.
"This is easily the biggest place I’ve ever played," Badgers forward Sam Dekker said. "It’s the most unique. There were some people talking about the raised floor. We had a little bit of experience going to Minnesota. They had that raised floor. That wasn’t too much of a surprise to us. But I’ve never played in something this big and this ornate. It’s pretty cool. It’s a fun experience."’
Wisconsin guard Josh Gasser made a point to note the dimensions of the court will be the same as any other venue. But the backdrop will be unlike anything players will have seen. The Kohl Center, after all, seats 17,142 people.
Kentucky plays in Rupp Arena, which has the second-biggest seating capacity in college basketball (23,500). The Wildcats also played Baylor at AT&T Stadium during a regular-season game earlier in the year.
"It’s different," Badgers point guard Traevon Jackson said. "It’s definitely bigger. It’s a little too big in my opinion. But it’s fun. It’s a great opportunity to come and play in front of 75,000 and to really just do what we’ve been blessed to have. That’s all the talents and ability we have as teammates and individuals. I’m just looking forward to the opportunity."
Koenig’s minutes increase: Bronson Koenig’s freshman season has featured its share of turbulence. But the Badgers’ backup point guard has played some of his best basketball all season during Wisconsin’s NCAA tournament run.
Koenig has made 6 of 11 shots from the field and is averaging 4.0 points while playing 17.8 minutes per game. On the season, he’s averaging 3.3 points in 15.3 minutes per contest.
"I think the game has kind of slowed down for me a little bit," Koenig said. "Naturally the game slows down and I’m more comfortable shooting the ball. And when I make my first shot, that gives me a lot more confidence to keep shooting."
Koenig said he turned around his season after a three-game February stretch in which he didn’t score and missed all six of his shots.
"I was kind of thinking about it a lot and kind of limiting myself," he said of his shot. "I’ve just stuck with it, kept my confidence and my teammates were giving me a lot of confidence. I just try to get back to playing the way I know how to play."
Cauley-Stein hurt: Kentucky 7-foot center Willie Cauley-Stein has not played since injuring his left ankle during a Sweet 16 game against Louisville. And though he told reporters Friday not to count him out of Saturday’s game just yet, it remains unlikely he will play Saturday against Wisconsin.
"We all feel bad for him," Kentucky guard James Young said. "It was real terrible for that to happen. We’ve just got to win this all for him. We’re basically doing it for him. He’s been there for us the whole season. Now we’ve got to be there for him."
Cauley-Stein, a sophomore, was averaging 6.8 points and 6.1 rebounds per game for the Wildcats. He also led the team with 106 blocked shots. No other Kentucky player had more than 30.
"That’s just like having a brother out there," Wildcats guard Andrew Harrison said. "We’re all hurting for him. On the court, he brings so much energy. He definitely protects the rim. It’s hard to get a layup over him. Offensively, you always have to find his body. He gets the offensive rebound or a lob. He’s a huge part of our team. Hopefully we can get through it without him."
Gators talk Wisconsin-Kentucky: Florida is the only team at the Final Four to have played each of the other three teams. Gators forward Patric Young was asked to weigh in on the Wisconsin-Kentucky matchup.
Wisconsin defeated Florida, 59-53, at the Kohl Center back on Nov. 12, 2013. That Gators team did not have the services of guard Scottie Wilbekin, who was suspended. Florida knocked off Kentucky twice this season, 69-59, at Kentucky on Feb. 15 and 61-60 in the SEC tournament championship game on March 16.
"I think it’s going to be a difficult matchup for Kentucky to handle (Frank) Kaminsky," said Young, who finished with eight points and six rebounds in 30 minutes against Wisconsin. "I think Kentucky might have a hard time with how disciplined Wisconsin is in their offense, but Wisconsin might have a lot of trouble with Kentucky’s athleticism. They’ll definitely have problems handling Julius Randle, I think, unless they do a great job of loading up on him and making him take bad shots.
"I think it’s going to be a fun game. I’m really interested to see how it plays out as well after hopefully we win. We’ll be looking forward to who we play next."
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