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Mike Lopresti | | April 6, 2014

Notes and quotes from the Final Four

  Billy Donovan and Florida will face off with UConn for a trip to the national title game.

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Notes and quotes from the Final Four:

When last the Final Four came to this neighborhood, Ronald Reagan was president and ESPN had been on the air for only six years.

It was 1986. Louisville beat Duke 72-69 to win the championship behind Pervis Ellison, who became the first freshman in 42 years to be named most outstanding player. Mike Krzyzewski coached in his first Final Four. LSU was the first 11th seed to make it. Larry Brown was here with Kansas.

It was a Final Four crammed with future basketball leaders, especially at Duke. The Blue Devils roster included Johnny Dawkins (now coach at Stanford), Tommy Amaker (coach at Harvard), Danny Ferry (Atlanta Hawks general manager), Billy King (Brooklyn Nets general manager) and Jay Bilas (ESPN commentator). On the Kansas team were Danny Manning (Wake Forest head coach) and Mark Turgeon (Maryland). Louisville had Kenny Payne, who is back this week as a Kentucky assistant.

Times have changed. A crowd of more than 75,000 is expected Saturday and Monday at AT&T Stadium. In 1986, the championship game attendance at Reunion Arena was 16,493.

First time the Connecticut’s Huskies were in AT&T Stadium, the place was empty. That was in January, and they were in town, losing to SMU. Head coach Kevin Ollie wanted his players to take a look at the place, so he arranged a tour. For two reasons, apparently.

“Everyone knows Coach Ollie’s a Dallas Cowboys fan,” Shabazz Napier said. “He definitely was enjoying it for that reason. But it was definitely a motivational thing. He wanted us to feel that atmosphere, even though there was no one there, besides us. He wanted us to see what it would feel like being out there, looking around, looking at the empty seats, envisioning there were people there, rooting you on.”

Saturday night, there will be.

Numbers of note:

• Kentucky is 17-2 in the NCAA tournament under John Calipari.

• This time last year, Louisville, Michigan, Syracuse and Wichita State were preparing for the Final Four. Kentucky personally evicted three of them -- all but Syracuse -- from this year’s bracket.

• Wisconsin is the only team in the nation this year to win a game while scoring in the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and 100s. The Badgers don’t always usually need lot of offense. They are 182-12 when scoring at least 70 points during Bo Ryan’s years.

• Wisconsin has outscored its four NCAA tournament victims by an average of 40-22.8 in the second half.

• Nearly 15 percent of Florida’s regular season and SEC tournament schedule -- five of 34 games -- was played against teams in this year’s Final Four. The Gators beat Kentucky three times and lost once each to Florida and Connecticut.

• Notice anyone missing here? The ACC. Again. This is the fourth consecutive season the hoop-happy league has not had a team in the Final Four. That hasn’t happened in 53 years.

What they were saying Friday:

• "The thing we have been talking about is succeed and proceed. You cannot proceed until you succeed. Succeed and then proceed. It will be on T-shirts.”
-- Kentucky head coach John Calipari, who has been saying how much he wants to come up with a new phrase to take the place of the oft-criticized one-and-done.

• “It’s way different. It kind of feels like you’re outside to a point. When you’re looking through the backboard it seems like everything’s so far away. It’s an insane venue. I think it’s too big, honestly.”
-- Wisconsin’s Frank Kaminsky on AT&T Stadium.

• “I don’t look at it like a lot of people look at it, that I’m replacing Coach Calhoun. Coach Calhoun is still beside me. He’s in front of me. He’s behind me. I’ve locked arms with coach because of what he’s put inside of me and his believe system in me.”
-- UConn head coach Kevin Ollie, on taking over the Huskies program from Jim Calhoun.

• “It’s a beautiful synergy that we all have, that common denominator that we played for UConn. We know what it takes to put that jersey on and the pride that we are playing for each and every night.”
-- Ollie, on the fact his entire staff is made up of former Huskies.

• “Let’s see, the day before we played the national championship game in the years that I was in Division III, I had a diet 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 doughnut today. I haven’t had a diet pop. You get to answer a lot of questions that you don’t get asked in Division III.”
-- Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan on the difference between his days at Wisconsin-Platteville and the Final Four.

• “As soon as I walked out on the court for practice, I was blown away. I am a Giants fan, and we don’t really like the Cowboys too much.’’
-- Florida head coach Billy Donovan, about AT&T Stadium.

• “They really look the same. I made them have different haircuts early so I could figure out who was who.”
-- Calipari on the Harrison twins.

• “They are harder on each other. I got to get them to stop. Would you stop yelling at your brother? They have been in one room for too long.”
-- More Calipari on the Harrisons.

• “Sometimes we kind of fail the eye test. ... But it doesn’t matter once the game starts. It doesn’t matter what we look like. It matters how we play.’’
-- Wisconsin’s Kaminsky on the perception the Badgers don’t appear as athletic as the other teams

• "Within the first three weeks I can tell. ... Practice starts, and everybody’s excited. Then, when the excitement of practice wears off, they’re dealing with fatigue. They’re having to push through. It’s the first time they have played against high-level competition on a regular basis. Their work ethic gets exposed, who they are gets exposed, their attitude gets exposed. Then, when you start handing out minutes and maybe they’re not playing as much as they want to or hoped for, you start to see some things there.”
-- Donovan, on how long it takes him to realize a new recruit might not fit in

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