Pelicans bragging rights at stake in Final Four matchup
By: Jim Eichenhofer, Pelicans.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
Shooting guard Anthony Morrow has often described the 2013-14 New Orleans Pelicans as “a tight-knit group” and a “family,” one that has bonded amid the adversity of a multitude of injuries. In the interest of team chemistry, however, it might be a good idea for a few players to not watch Saturday’s Final Four together.
When Wisconsin faces Kentucky tonight (approximate 7:49 p.m. Central tip-off), the matchup will pit the colleges of three Pelicans players. New Orleans center Greg Stiemsma is a Wisconsin native who played four years for the Badgers from 2004-08, while Darius Miller and Anthony Davis were Kentucky Wildcats teammates in 2011-12, the school’s most recent championship season. Like Stiemsma, Miller is also a native of his college’s state who played four NCAA seasons.
“It will be exciting,” Stiemsma said. “It’s always fun to have a little banter back and forth with your teammates, especially at this stage, this late in the tournament. A Final Four meeting is a little more exciting than if it was in the first or second round.”
“It will be fun,” Miller said of the matchup. “It’s going to be great to watch.”
The hectic nature of the NBA schedule doesn’t always allow players to catch their schools in action, but an off day enabled Miller and Davis to watch Kentucky’s thrilling win over Michigan in the Elite Eight, which wasn’t decided until the buzzer. The Wildcats, who began the season ranked No. 1 nationally, entered the NCAA Tournament as a No. 8 seed.
“I really enjoyed it,” Miller said. “I was talking to people from back home throughout the whole game. I was doing a lot of texting myself. It was fun. I’m glad the guys are playing the way everyone thought they would at the beginning of the year. They had a lot of pressure on them. I’m sure that was tough, especially being a bunch of young guys. They stuck with it and pulled it out. I’m proud of them.”
Stiemsma learned the news of Wisconsin’s Final Four trip while he was traveling from the Spurs’ arena to the San Antonio airport postgame last Saturday. The center was frantically checking his phone for score updates, while trying to get in touch with his numerous Wisconsin friends.
“The gamecast said there were 2.9 seconds left for about five or six minutes (of real time),” Stiemsma said of the Badgers’ dramatic overtime win against top-seeded Arizona. “I thought my phone froze at first, so I texted a bunch of friends and asked what was going on. But (the delay) was because the officials were looking at a replay. As soon as the game was over, I got a bunch of texts from people saying, ‘Your Badgers are in the Final Four!’ ”
The three players were unsure of where they would watch Saturday’s game while visiting a relatively unfamiliar city; the team practiced this morning in Portland and will face the Trail Blazers on Sunday night.
“We’ll have to see,” a smiling Stiemsma said of the plan for watching Badgers-Wildcats. “I’m not sure yet what I’m going to do. But I might have to stay away from (Miller and Davis), because they might get a little too fired up about Kentucky.”