MINNEAPOLIS — Bryce Brown had been so wrapped up in being a crucial leader during the best postseason run in Auburn basketball history, he hadn't had a chance to research 2019's Final Four venue.
Brown said Thursday after Auburn's first practice in U.S. Bank Stadium in downtown Minneapolis that he had no idea Auburn's season would end in an NFL venue.
"We walked into the stadium and I really didn't know it was a football stadium we were playing in, so it definitely caught me off guard," said Brown, Auburn's leading scorer who ranks second in SEC history in made 3-pointers with 378.
Brown added that, by its own standards, Auburn had a successful first go-around in the Minnesota Vikings' home stadium, which seats 66,655 fans on any given Sunday during football season and is one of only 10 stadiums in America eligible to host the Final Four because of its dome roof and 60,000-plus capacity.
For this year's Final Four, darkening curtains and panels are being added across the stadium to reduce the glare of the lights for both the players on the floor and 600-plus students behind each basket.
Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl said that edits made to the venue, which are intended to emulate the rich, dark and intimate lighting and atmosphere of a college basketball arena, have not and will not affect his team's play on the floor. If anything, the rims seemed friendly to Auburn at its first practice, according to the 59-year-old coach.
"We were here this morning and shot — got a lot of shots — and the sight lines are really good," Pearl said. "... The guys got a lot of shots, and this shouldn't be a factor."
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Pearl said the rims seemed soft and he expects Auburn, which ranks first in Division-I college basketball in 3-point makes this season, to log "good shooting percentages" Saturday in its Final Four matchup with 1-seed Virginia.
But the unusual setting presents challenges for Pearl's squad, as well.
Pearl doesn’t bring out chairs for his players during timeouts like most other teams do. He instead allows everyone to sit on the bench, where he squats in the middle and barks out orders during timeouts.
This weekend, the benches will be lower than the court level, so Pearl and his assistants will be forced to bring out stools and chairs for each player as to keep the Tigers on the floor at that time from having to climb down.
That may seem unimportant and even superstitious, but Pearl knows Auburn has gotten this far by way of consistency.
“You typically don’t like to change routine,” Pearl said. “But we have no choice.”
The bench setup will also keep Pearl away from his assistants, whom he "likes in his ear suggesting things and challenging his thinking" during games.
He could avoid that by sitting while he coaches. Of course, Pearl said that isn't happening.
While Brown and company aren't being "consumed" by the gravity of the Final Four, they are slightly gassed after their first full day in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.
Auburn admitted its fatigue last month after playing five games in eight days, spanning from the Tigers' regular-season finale against Tennessee to its SEC Tournament Championship win over the Vols. Auburn's recent slate hasn't been near as treacherous, but Pearl isn't taking any chances.
The team was scheduled for a practice late afternoon down the road at the University of Minnesota, but Pearl canceled.
The Tigers will practice twice tomorrow to make up for it.
"These are long days," Pearl said. "There's a lot to do. We had good practice this morning... We've got to get the kids back to the hotel, get them something to eat, get them off their feet. But we had a good day."
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