The Final Four festivities are off and running here in Phoenix. Thursday all four teams settled in and went through their first practices, the locker rooms were opened to the media and all of the coaches held their first formal news conferences of the tournament. Here’s a few things that caught out attention Thursday.
Under the weather
The biggest news item of the day in Phoenix was the absence of Sindarius Thornwell. Thornwell, who has arguably been the best player in this year’s NCAA Tournament, didn’t make it practice because of an illness. Frank Martin said his senior guard was running a slight fever when the team arrived in Arizona and they wanted him to rest and hydrate at the hotel instead of pushing it in practice. Martin said he’s also fighting off a bug. “Luckily I don’t have to play,” Martin joked.
Don’t call me Cinderella
USC is an indisputable Cinderella story here at the Final Four but that doesn’t necessarily mean the Gamecock players are embracing that label. Senior guard Justin McKie said they are playing with a chip on their shoulders because of the fact people have underestimated them. PJ Dozier said he isn’t caught up in what people are calling them, he feels like they can play with and beat anyone.
First time in a long time
This is USC and Gonzaga’s first ever Final Four trip. The last time two teams making their first appearence in the Final Four met was the 1973 game between Providence and Memphis State. Ironically, one of the teams Memphis State to reach the Final Four that year was the Gamecocks.
Thursday was the first chance for players to take in the setup at University of Phoenix Stadium. This venue was built for football; it’s the home of the Arizona Cardinals and the site of the Clemson’s Fiesta Bowl win over Ohio State earlier this year (and the College Football Championship game in 2016). They are expecting 60,000 plus fans in the building for the two games Saturday. The biggest adjustment for the players is shooting with so much open space behind the baskets. Several players said it took a some time to get used to the depth perception. The court is elevated above the benches and the players actually go up some stairs to get on the court. The coaches sit on a stool on the court. Here’s how Frank Martin described it:
“I’m going to say the stadium court, I don’t know what you call that. It’s a monster out there. I’m just glad I got a stool, I was scared I was going to fall off the court there.
What he said
Take a listen to what PJ Dozier had to say about the Final Four experience: