LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Playing and shooting at its cozy Academic, Sports and Recreation Complex has become quite a comfortable endeavor for the West Liberty men's basketball team. Naturally, questions began to arise as to how the Hilltoppers would fare inside Freedom Hall, which the University of Louisville called home for 54 seasons.
To say the arena that sits on the grounds of the Kentucky Exposition Center and seats nearly 19,000 is cavernous, would be the ultimate of understatements, especially considering the empty seats that are bound to be there when the top-ranked Hilltoppers (33-1) play Winona State (27-7) at 2:30 today in an NCAA Division II national quarterfinal.
"I think our guys can shoot the ball anywhere," West Liberty coach Jim Crutchfield said. "Our guys focus on the rim and honestly, they've darkened the outside of this arena and it doesn't really have a giant backdrop feel to it.
"These guys have been everywhere and they know they can shoot the ball here."
There didn't seem to be any adverse affect during the team's practice Wednesday afternoon.
Guard Tim Hausfeld hit 10 in a row from 3-point range at one point, and his teammates weren't missing many either.
"Me personally, I loved it. I love the gym, I love the court and I love the rims,'' West Liberty guard Alex Falk said. "It feels comfortable. I think most people by the end of the 55-minute session were comfortable.''
Likewise Chris Morrow, a 6-foot-6 big man with unlimited range, found the setting to be an easy adjustment.
"The arena's huge - probably the biggest arena anyone on our team has ever played in," he said. "There's a lot of space behind the backboards and we got plenty of shots up.
"Toward the end of practice I didn't see too many missed shots coming from anybody, so that's a good sign going into this game."
When you've been as good as the Hilltoppers have for the length of time that they have, awards are bound to come. A couple more rolled in Wednesday.
Falk, already named Division II, Atlantic Region and West Virginia Conference Player of the Year, was selected to his second All-America team, this one published by Basketball Times.
"It doesn't bother Alex at all, I don't think," Crutchfield said.
It apparently doesn't affect the coach either, because he added Coach of the Year from the same publication. That should go well with his Atlantic Region and WVC honors.
Can We Just Play?
West Liberty hasn't played a basketball game in nine days. During that time Crutchfield and his players have answered every question imaginable, many numerous times.
Is the coach ready to actually play? Is he tired of talking to the media?
"Absolutely. That's part of it, though," Crutchfield said with a laugh. "You've got to try to soak this up as much as you can.
"How often in your life do you walk around and guys with microphones and cameras and recorders are hanging out saying 'what do you have to say?' Usually I don't have anything that important to say anyway."
It's Only a Game
Often players get too caught up in the situation they're involved with. It becomes too much to handle and the pressure engulfs them.
Not going to happen to West Liberty if you listen to Falk, who will play in his third Elite Eight in four seasons.
"You approach this game like you do every other game," he said. "We're determined and we're focused.
"We know what we have to do and we don't want to fall short again. We're ready to go, I think."
Shawn Rine can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org