Shabazz Napier and UConn practiced at AT&T Stadium for the first time on Thursday morning.
April 3, 2014NCAA Salute Photo Gallery
ARLINGTON, Texas - For the second time this season, the University of Connecticut men's basketball team visited AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, on Thursday. The trip to the impressive venue held a little more significance, as the Huskies returned as participants in the 2014 Final Four, which takes place in the stadium this weekend.
UConn's first stop at AT&T Stadium back in January occurred during a two-game stretch of basketball when the Huskies weren't at their best. They toured the facility three days after dropping their American Athletic Conference opener to Houston, 75-71, in a game in which they trailed by a season-worst 18 points at halftime. Connecticut would fall to 0-2 in conference play one day later this time at the hands of Southern Methodist, who defeated the Huskies, 74-65.
UConn men's basketball coach Kevin Ollie, an avid Cowboys fan, had hoped that January's trip to the stadium wouldn't be the last one for his team, and he urged his players to come together following the loss to the Mustangs. Now, after a remarkable run in the NCAA Tournament which saw the seventh-seeded Huskies knock off three of the top four seeds in the East Regional, UConn is back in Arlington and in the Final Four for the fifth time in program history.
In January, the Huskies were simply tourists visiting the $1.3 billion stadium that opened its doors on May 27, 2009. Today, the attention was on them and following an early-morning practice, each player dressed up in their full uniform for photos and videos that will be used during Saturday's game against top-seeded Florida.
The Connecticut players were in awe of the scenery of AT&T Stadium, transformed into a basketball arena this week, as they stretched before their morning practice. Senior forward Niels Giffey (Berlin, Germany), called the moment "unreal", while after the practice Ollie stressed that his players have each other's backs and focus on the task ahead of them.
Giffey and Ollie later addressed the media in two separate press conferences early this afternoon. Giffey, who spoke alongside Florida guard Scottie Wilbekin, Kentucky forward Julius Randle and Wisconsin guard Ben Brust, talked about how he told the younger guys on UConn to have fun and enjoy the moment as much as they can. Ollie was joined on the podium by Florida men's basketball coach Billy Donovan, and he discussed how great of an accomplishment it was for the Huskies to reach the Final Four in his opening statement to reporters.
Thursday night the Huskies attended the NCAA Salute Event at the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center in Dallas. UConn players and staff had the chance to play various sports games at the "Bracket Town," for an hour before the ceremony got underway. The presentation started with each of the four Final Four teams being introduced to the audience, and senior guard Shabazz Napier (Roxbury, Mass.) and Ollie were both on stage throughout the course of the night fielding questions from host Jim Nantz of CBS Sports.
Former President George W. Bush also made an appearance during the ceremony, and the night ended with a video montage of all the action so far from this year's NCAA Tournament. UConn's game against Florida on Saturday is set to tip off at 6:09 ET and it can be seen on TBS and heard on the UConn IMG Radio Network.