Make us your home page
Instagram

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

NCAA Final Four teams try to block out hype

ARLINGTON, Texas — Scottie Wilbekin and his three senior Gator teammates advanced to three Elite Eight games, and lost, before finally clearing that hurdle and advancing to this weekend's Final Four. So you can imagine how much the adrenaline was flowing when they arrived at AT&T Stadium on Thursday afternoon.

Kentucky's Julius Randle was a middle school student growing up in Dallas when he learned that the 2014 Final Four was going to be played in his hometown, and he wanted very much to be a part of it. Connecticut is making its third Final Four appearance in the past six years, while Wisconsin is in its first under 66-year-old coach Bo Ryan.

Florida, Kentucky, Wisconsin and UConn all arrived in Dallas hoping to leave next week with an NCAA championship. But the road between now and Saturday's national semifinal games is filled with potholes that could easily trip a team up. On Thursday, the four coaches leading this season's teams said keeping them focused and keeping them from becoming overwhelmed are the top priorities.

"We know our guys are going to get in front of 75,000, look around and think, 'Oh, my, it's going to be that way,' " Kentucky coach John Calipari said. "If you think these 18-, 19- and 20-year-old kids are going to not be cognizant of what's going on around them, they will be. So our whole thing right now is stay in the moment. Don't worry about Saturday, let's worry about today. Try not to overload them with stuff and go from there."

According to the players, that's not an easy thing to do. Daily practices and media obligations monopolize their time. Then the downtime can lead to overthinking the game.

"It's kind of tough to manage these first days," said UConn senior guard-forward Niels Giffey, who is participating in his second Final Four. "You have to stay focused on what you've got to get done on the court. That's the most important thing, I think. 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. 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."

Randle, a freshman forward, is trying to balance the excitement of making it to the Final Four with the desire to win it all in his hometown.

"It's kind of been emotional for my family, all that the team's been through this year," Randle said. "They're just really proud of where we came from. But at the end of the day we're just excited to get out there and compete and have another opportunity to play the game."

Wisconsin appears to be in the right frame of mind, Ryan said: "One of our players actually made a comment as we were driving in, 'So this is the road to the Final Four.' So I think our guys are loose enough. They understand it's another two-game tournament."

Wilbekin, UF's star point guard, said the plan for the Gators is to do what has gotten them this far.

"Stay focused and not let all the media attention that we're going to be getting there affect us and make us have a higher opinion of ourselves than we need to," Wilbekin said. "Because we're the same team that was struggling in the beginning of the year, and just basically the same team before we went on our streak of 30 wins. We just have to stay grounded and remember who we are, and just be the people that we are, and the team that we are."

Antonya English can be reached at english@tampabay.com.

Final Four

at Arlington, Texas Saturday's semifinals (TV: TBS)

No. 1 Florida (36-2) vs. No. 7 Connecticut (30-8), 6:09

No. 2 Wisconsin (30-7) vs. No. 8 Kentucky (28-10), 8:50

NCAA Final Four teams try to block out hype

04/03/14 [Last modified: Thursday, April 3, 2014 10:20pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Marc Topkin's takeaways from Friday's Rays-Orioles game

    The Heater

    RHP Alex Cobb hates to hear how he "battled through" or "grinded out" a start rather than just dominated, but that's kind of what he did Friday, allowing nine hits and a walk and being charged with two wild pitches but only three runs in earning his 12th win.

  2. Lightning's Steven Stamkos looks close to top form in first game since November

    Lightning Strikes

    TAMPA — Lightning captain Steven Stamkos was curious how he would feel — and perform — in Friday's exhibition against Nashville, his first game since mid-November knee surgery.

    The Lightning’s Alex Killorn, left, makes his preseason debut and has an assist in a 3-1 win against the Predators at Amalie Arena.
  3. Rays journal: Rays tie franchise home run record

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — A major flaw in the Rays offense this season — and thus a major reason for their inconsistent play and losing record — has been too much reliance on the home run.

    Wilson Ramos points after hitting a grand slam during the second inning, putting the Rays up 4-0.
  4. Ww's Odessabeach makes run at Husker Magic stakes final

    Parimutuels

    ST. PETERSBURG — When Hurricane Irma blew through Florida earlier this month, Ww's Odessabeach remained in her comfort zone.

  5. Steven Souza Jr. vindicating big trade for Rays

    The Heater

    BALTIMORE — There was a time when the three-team, 11-player transaction the Rays orchestrated to get Steven Souza Jr. from the Nationals looked liked a bad deal.

    The Rays’ Steven Souza Jr. has 30 home runs while improving his defense and baserunning.