MINNEAPOLIS – Preparing for the biggest game of their lives while navigating the opportunities and demands that come with it, the Auburn Tigers practiced Thursday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
“Things are different here at the Final Four than the Sweet 16,” senior Horace Spencer said. “It’s a way bigger stage. The basketball court is inside a stadium. There’s a lot of space and opportunity. I’m going to look around today, get adjusted, get past that and focus on the game at hand.”
Auburn’s 90-minute stadium practice began a busy day that included interviews, photo shoots, a visit to Fan Fest and the Final Four Salute Celebration at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
“These are long days,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “There’s a lot to do. We had a good practice this morning.”
The Tigers had an opportunity to practice a second time Thursday at the University of Minnesota, but Pearl decided against it.
“We’ve got to get the kids back to the hotel, get them off their feet,” he said. “We had a good day, and we’ll go twice tomorrow.”
After producing the only 30-win season in Auburn history, the Tigers (30-9) will seek their 13th consecutive victory Saturday against Virginia in the NCAA Tournament national semifinals at 5:09 p.m. CT on CBS and the Auburn Sports Network.
“I’ve asked the guys to look around a little bit, especially today and tomorrow and maybe even just for a second in pregame Saturday night, and cherish the moment,” Pearl said.
Auburn has already accomplished something no other program has: defeating powerhouses Kansas, North Carolina and Kentucky in succession in the NCAA Tournament.
“All the blue bloods,” Pearl said. “Through all the great coaches, hall of fame coaches, all the McDonald’s All-Americans. We’re still on that journey.”
Now come the Cavaliers (33-3), the No. 1 seed in the South Region. Virginia went 16-2 this season in the ACC.
“If we’re trying to make history, why not have it be, potentially, the most difficult road to the Final Four or national championship of all time?” Pearl said.
The Auburn-Virginia winner will play the winner will play Monday night against the winner of Saturday’s second semifinal featuring Michigan State and Texas Tech.
“In March Madness, they do talk about the Cinderella story,” Pearl said. “We’re writing this story. I don’t know how the story’s going to end, but right now, we’re probably at the ball, but the dance isn’t over.”
This ball feature bright lights at every turn – cameras, networks, requests for a word, a picture, an autograph. The trappings that accompany a trip to the Final Four.
“It’s a great experience. We’re trying to enjoy it as much as we can,” junior Jared Harper said. “At the end of the day, we’re here to win two games and win a national championship. I’m sure we’re going to enjoy it, but going back to the hotel, we’re going to watch film and get to tomorrow, a day before the game. I’m sure we’re going to be as locked in as possible.”
Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jeff_shearer