UConn coach Geno Auriemma was asked Thursday about how the different nature of the Final Four this year, with the entire NCAA tournament in the vicinity of San Antonio because of COVID-19 protocol, might play into the games on Friday night.
“Believe me, there are a lot of things that happen at the Final Four that you can do without,” Auriemma said with a chuckle. “I don’t miss those things one bit. You have more time to prepare your team, that’s for sure, when you think about it.”
Auriemma’s team plays Arizona on Friday at 6:30 p.m. after South Carolina and Stanford play in the other Final Four matchup.
The legendary coach in his 36th year at UConn is leading the Huskies in their 13th consecutive Final Four and 21st overall. His program has 11 national titles.
— Arizona Women’s Basketball (@ArizonaWBB) April 1, 2021
Upstart Arizona, coached by up-and-coming coach Adia Barnes, is in its first Final Four.
Auriemma noted that teams, unlike previous years, don’t have to travel into the Final Four city after winning their regional with only one or two days to prepare.
“Right now, Arizona is missing all that and I think that can be a benefit,” he said.
He mentioned that UConn’s players are accustomed to the “Circus-is-in-town” hoopla surrounding its storied and much-publicized program.
“But for some teams,” he said, “when they they fly in and they land and they see all the signs and the TV and everything the way it’s set up and the bigness, how big everything is, how long the media is, how much attention from the media, how many photoshoots … it distracts kids.”
He said all that hype could “become maybe more about everything but the game.”
“I think Arizona is going to benefit a little bit from that,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, those kids are missing out on a lot of fun, but I think they’re going to benefit from not having to go through all that.”
Barnes believes the Final Four situation this year of being in the same place as the entire NCAA Tournament, is the atmosphere of the Alamodome, where Friday’s Final Four and Sunday’s championship will be held.
“I do see how being at one neutral place and kind of getting used to the floor and stuff like that, I do think it’s probably a benefit for us,” said Barnes, whose team will play its fourth game at the Alamodome in the last two weeks when it faces UConn.
This is Barnes’ second Final Four appearance as a coach. She was an assistant at Washington when the Huskies went this deep into the 2015-16 NCAA tournament.
She mentioned that with this being the first Final Four experience for all of her players, they do not know how this is different than previous years.
“We wouldn’t know anything different because we haven’t experienced either, but I could see how teams benefit from (higher seeds) not having homecourt advantage,” Barnes said. “I think it didn’t benefit us early because it was a neutral site because we would have hosted the first couple of rounds at home.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.