Florida Gators player, Scottie Wilbekin practices with his teammates Thursday. / Kinfay Moroti/news-press.com
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Florida players got their cell phones out on Thursday and clicked off some pictures of Cowboys Stadium. Nice place, very impressive — but don't expect the Gators to be awed by the stadium that has a record draw of 105,121.
That many people won't be inside for tonight's South Region semifinal games. Capacity will be at 42,614. Kansas, which plays the first game of the night against Michigan, will likely take up about half of those tickets in just the second college hoops game every played there.
Texas played North Carolina on Dec. 19, 2009, in the only other basketball game played here.
It's not a bad configuration, actually, with the court elevated about three feet and centered on the football field. The massive scoreboard is so big, it extends beyond the playing surface at both ends.
"Even if you make the big plays, it's hard to get a good angle on that TV, you have to stand right on the edge,'' FGCU's Chase Fieler said. "We'll have to run more towards the sideline to see it.''
But Florida is used to all these. The Gators have played in massive arenas and odd floors many times — opening the season on the USS Bataan before it was called after a half because of slick playing conditions.
"I think nowadays these guys are so used to playing in some of these bigger venues,'' UF coach Billy Donovan said. "For a lot of years the SEC Tournament was held in the Georgia Dome.
"But it's a great to get a chance today to go out there and shoot around and get at least familiar with the site, so to speak. But probably for every team playing it's a different and unique situation.''
Florida guard Kenny Boynton said he had already heard the arena could cause some problems for 3-point shooters with a lack of solid background.
Seats are piled right behind both hoops and there's a lot of space behind the sight lines. So it could be tough to focus on the rim.
"That's what I've been hearing . . . that it could be tough on shooters,'' Boynton said. "But we'll see.''
One thing is for certain. Florida seemed pretty much able to just go through the motions on Thursday without a whole lot of fa fare. The stadium had several thousand fans that showed up to watch FGCU work out. Media piled into the Fort Myers school's locker room.