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Florida, UConn have experience in huge arena

ARLINGTON, Texas — Florida has played all three of the other teams participating in tonight's Final Four, but the Gators and Kentucky may have a slight advantage because both have played at AT&T Stadium. The Gators played in it in an NCAA regional last year, and Kentucky played at the stadium against Baylor on Dec. 6.

"This is definitely the biggest arena I have played in, but it helps to have played here just last year," Gators senior F Casey Prather said.

"It looks way different from the last time we were here," Kentucky C Dakari Johnson said. "Everything is way different from the last time we came here."

AT&T Stadium is cavernous. Essentially it is a basketball court set in a vast open space. Because there is not a normal basketball arena background, some players said depth perception will be affected.

Florida coach Billy Donovan said the problem is the same for every team.

"We had the opportunity last year to play here, so for some of our guys, it is a familiar place," he said. "But I think there's enough time to get ready and play in this kind of venue, because it is a little bit different. But everybody here is dealing with the same thing. We have all been given the opportunity to come out there and shoot and see what the building is like."

TOUGH TIME: Kentucky C Willie Cauley-Stein is questionable for tonight's semifinal against Wisconsin. The sophomore played 37 games this season before injuring an ankle in the Sweet 16 against Louisville.

"It's definitely emotional," Cauley-Stein said. "This is what you come to school for, and this is what you work so hard for. To have it taken away from you, it's heartbreaking. But you have to lose yourself in your teammates and be happy for what they are accomplishing and enjoy the ride that comes with it. After we won the Louisville game, you think to yourself how perfect the next two games would have been to play in. You can easily say that, but it could be a blessing in disguise."

PLAIN AND SIMPLE: Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan has come long way from his days as coach at Wisconsin-Platteville, where he won four Division III national titles. Ryan is making his first appearance as a head coach in the Final Four, but he insists he's the same guy he was back then. It's everything else around him that has changed.

Asked about the differences between the two levels of competition, Ryan, 66, said: "The day before we played the national championship game in the years that I was in Division III, I had a diet pop — I always said soda until I got to Wisconsin; now it's pop — and a cream doughnut at the Krispy Kreme place and enjoyed that, read the paper, did some crossword puzzles and went to the game the next day. The difference? I haven't had a cream-filled donut today. I haven't had a diet pop. You get to answer a lot of questions you don't get to answer in Division III. It's the whole ambiance of this takes over from the outside, and that's okay."

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

Florida, UConn have experience in huge arena 04/04/14 [Last modified: Saturday, April 5, 2014 12:23am]

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