Kentucky guard Doron Lamb loves it. Kansas counterpart Tyshawn Taylor isn’t so sure.
In the cavernous Superdome in New Orleans, everyone has a different idea how shots will fall against a big backdrop that’ll hold more than 74,000 fans and a raised floor smack in the middle of the venue.
Lamb’s support of the venue doesn’t come necessarily from shooting. Kentucky shot 50.5 percent in the Georgia Dome during the South Regional semifinals and finals, but that setup only included half the football venue. In Houston last year, which is orientated similarly to New Orleans, the Wildcats shot 33.9 percent in a one-point loss to Connecticut in the national semifinals.
“I like playing in football arenas because they’re real big, and we’ve got a lot of fans that come support us. Our team is used to playing in them. It doesn’t bother me,” Lamb said Thursday. “Everybody says you shoot different, but it doesn’t really bother me.”
Taylor has no problem firing in big arenas. Accuracy is another matter.
“I think I have a lot of experience shooting in domes, just not a lot of experience making them, making threes anyway,” Taylor said. “I personally have to understand that if my shots are not falling, I can do other things.”
Louisville coach Rick Pitino didn’t see any problems during practice.
“We shot the ball great,” Pitino said. “We worked on a 5-foot shot, a 6-foot shot and worked our way out.”
BANGED UP DAVIS — Kentucky forward Anthony Davis says his left knee is feeling better but still not completely healthy after he banged into a Baylor player last Sunday in the South Regional finals in Atlanta.
Davis, a first-team All-American, said he’d be fine but hasn’t participated fully in practice since banging knees with Perry Jones III while driving to the basket in Kentucky’s 82-70 win.
“I sat out some. Did some things. Rode the bike a little,” Davis said a little bit more than 48 hours before the Wildcats play Louisville in the Final Four. “It’s about 90 percent. I’ll be fine. I’ve just got to keep icing it.”
Davis crumpled to the court in Atlanta for a brief scare, but later returned and finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
WHACK-A-WITHEY — It still looks odd every time it happens.
An opposing player throws the ball down in frustration, or an opposing coach gets too upset with the officials, and a technical foul is called. Kansas coach Bill Self is asked for a shooter and out trots 7-foot center Jeff Withey.
So much for hack-a-Shaq. Or even whack-a-Withey.
This guy can make free throws.
“It’s so demoralizing when you work your butt off and get to the line and miss three front-ends of one-and-ones. That’s like an offensive turnover,” Self said. “And Jeff’s one of those guys, every time he goes to the line we think we’ll get two.”
He might not set any records, but Withey’s 79.4-percent rate of return is second only to Connor Teahan, who has attempted just 31 foul shots all season.
“You know, I’ve always been a pretty good free throw shooter since my freshman year of high school. It’s a ton of repetition,” Withey said. “I know it’s free points, so every time I step to the line you’re not going to get an easier look at some points.”
HABLA ESPANOL? — Louisville center Gorgui Dieng has one up on coach Rick Pitino.
When Pitino first met the 22-year-old from Senegal, Dieng spoke “very little English,” the coach recalled Thursday. Two months later, Dieng had the language mastered.
Considering Pitino had been spending two hours a day trying to master Spanish for a side job as the coach of Puerto Rico’s national team, it was a bit humbling.
“I couldn’t get to his level,” Pitino said. “Rosetta Stone did not do me well compared to Gorgui.”
And that’s not the half of it. Dieng is also fluent in Spanish, French, Italian and his native Wolof.
TRANQUIL THAD — Ohio State coach Thad Matta comes across as a genial guy. Senior guard William Buford scoffs at the “Mr. Nice Guy” routine.
“Don’t let him fool you,” Buford said, laughing. “He can get mean when we’re not doing what we’re supposed to be doing. For the most part, he’s real calm and down to earth, and tries to bring the best out of his players every time we’re on the floor.”
Matta’s approach has worked wonders for the Buckeyes out of the Jim O’Brien era. Matta has won five Big Ten Conference titles, three conference tournament championships and made six NCAA tournament appearances. The Buckeyes are back in the Final Four for the first time since 2007, when they lost in the title game.
“He’s just a real cool coach,” Buford said. “And, I wouldn’t want to play for anyone else.”