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Gonzaga players, coaches adjust to raised court at University of Phoenix Stadium

The Gonzaga bench watches action in the final moments against South Carolina in the Final Four on Saturday in Phoenix. Because of the raised court, GU reserves couldn’t quite figure out whether to stand or sit before settling for leaning against the side of the portable court. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
The Gonzaga bench watches action in the final moments against South Carolina in the Final Four on Saturday in Phoenix. Because of the raised court, GU reserves couldn’t quite figure out whether to stand or sit before settling for leaning against the side of the portable court. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Gonzaga coach Mark Few and assistant Tommy Lloyd usually carry on a running dialogue during games.

That required some creativity Saturday during the national semifinal with the unique set-up inside University of Phoenix Stadium. As with many Final Fours staged in a football stadium, there’s an elevated court. Players entering and exiting the court negotiate a short flight of stairs to reach their destination.

Each head coach has a stool on the court – Few rarely sits during games – but assistant coaches must remain below where the bench is located.

“It was hard for me,” Lloyd said. “I started either getting on the steps or sitting on that ledge where I could talk to him.”

The coaching staff usually has four consecutive seats on the bench, but that wasn’t an option Saturday.

“You’re usually within 3 or 4 feet of each other and all the players are right there so it’s different,” assistant coach Brian Michaelson said. “It makes it harder to relay anything from foul issues to scouting stuff, but it was more awkward in Houston.”

That was in 2015 when Gonzaga played two NCAA Tournament games at NRG Stadium. The Zags shot frosty percentages from the field in a win over UCLA and an Elite Eight loss to Duke inside the massive facility.

There was no repeat performance in Saturday’s 77-73 win over South Carolina. Gonzaga made 9 of 19 3-pointers and shot 48.3 percent from the floor.

“That first practice, I don’t know if it’s just this group and they’re so confident or the (better) sightlines, we shot the ball so well,” Michaelson said. “A much different experience than Houston when from the minute we took the floor shooting was an issue.”

North Carolina, GU’s opponent in Monday’s title game, connected on just 36.8 percent of its shots, 38.1 percent beyond the arc. Oregon was below 40 percent on 2- and 3-point attempts.

“It was pretty easy to adjust,” Zags guard Jordan Mathews said. “It was actually easier once the stands filled and people were inside. The first day was a little rough.”

Forward Johnathan Williams was worried about falling going down the steps. Gonzaga reserves couldn’t quite figure out whether to stand or sit at the outset. They settled for leaning against the side of the portable court.

“You’re down so low it’s hard to see down at the other end of the floor,” guard Dustin Triano said. “We were able to lean against it but it was interesting.”

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