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Gonzaga, South Carolina try to find shooting range inside football stadium

Gonzaga players Zach Norvell, left, and Rui Hachimura put up 3-point shots during Friday’s practice at the University of Phoenix Stadium. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga players Zach Norvell, left, and Rui Hachimura put up 3-point shots during Friday’s practice at the University of Phoenix Stadium. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Gonzaga freshman center Zach Collins has some experience inside roomy University of Phoenix Stadium.

He attended an Arizona Cardinals football game last year with friends. When he walked into the stadium earlier this week, he took a peak at his seat during the football game.

It was a long way away from the raised, portable basketball court where Gonzaga and South Carolina will tangle Saturday in the Final Four.

“You’re on one side of the court and you look down at the other rim and it looks like it’s 7 feet high,” Collins said. “It’s pretty bizarre, but once we started getting shots up you realize the free-throw line is the same length away as it is at Gonzaga.

“No big deal.”

Final Fours played inside massive NFL stadiums have become commonplace. The New Orleans Superdome, Detroit’s Ford Field and Dallas’ AT&T Stadium are among NFL facilities that have staged college basketball’s biggest event.

But the lack of a shooting background can make it tricky for players to dial in their jump shots in surroundings that are different than they experienced throughout the season.

“It’s fine,” Gonzaga guard Jordan Mathews said. “The rim’s 10 feet high. You just have to follow through. You make it, you make it. You miss it, you miss it. You can’t concentrate on the backdrop. Everybody has to play on it so it’s not like you’re at a certain disadvantage.”

Gonzaga played in the Houston Texans’ NRG Stadium in 2015 with mixed results. The Zags shot 40.3 percent, including a frigid 15.8 percent on 3-pointers, in a 74-62 win over UCLA. Gonzaga made 44 percent, but just 20 percent beyond the arc, in a 66-52 loss to Duke in the Elite Eight.

University of Phoenix Stadium seats 76,000.

“It’s enormous,” Zags freshman Killian Tillie said. “I don’t know how people in the back are going to see the game. The first shots were weird, but we put up a lot of shots to get used to it so it was better at the end.”

South Carolina attempted more 3-point shots (715 in 36 games to Gonzaga’s 711 in 37). The Zags were more accurate from distance (37.8 percent to South Carolina’s 33.7).

“Remember like how you were as a kid, playing outside,” Gamecocks guard Duane Notice said. “The depth perception is going to throw you off. Just shooting around, it was weird at first, but you get used to it.”

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