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Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN)
As snow started falling Wednesday in downtown Minneapolis, U.S. Bank Stadium was being transformed inside for springtime.
For the first time in the building's roughly 28-month history, a hard court was installed so the stadium can play host to four basketball games this weekend. The marquee event features the University of Minnesota men vs. Oklahoma State University at 9 p.m. Friday.
"This is history," a smiling Patrick Talty said as he stood on the court, which was gleaming under the stadium's lights. Talty is general manager for SMG, the operator of the stadium and this weekend's event.
The games are a prelude to the NCAA's March Madness, the men's college basketball tournament that culminates April 6-8 with the Final Four in Minneapolis.
While not a full-on dress rehearsal for April, this weekend's games will give SMG some early clues on how the building's lights and acoustics, scoreboards, locker rooms and seating will perform for basketball.
The NCAA requires the host venue to hold at least one basketball game in advance of March Madness.
This weekend's U.S. Bank Stadium Basketball Classic expands on that requirement by bringing in teams from the region.
Said Tom McGinnis, senior associate athletic director for the Gophers: "It would have been easy just to check a box and say we hosted one basketball game.
"But they said, 'Let's make the first basketball event at U.S. Bank Stadium a great one.' "
The change from football stadium to basketball arena sped toward completion Thursday.
The court, transported in 219 pieces from the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, S.D., was laid on a platform before the hoops were locked and raised.
Risers awaited chairs on what typically is the Vikings' 50-yard line, and the ribbon boards flashed maroon and gold letters and logos for the Gophers and orange and black for the Cowboys.
The platform for the court, along with the interlocking flooring that runs flush to the playing surface, came straight from the 2018 Final Four in San Antonio last March.
Talty said crews found vestiges of the confetti from Villanova's championship celebration.
The firsts this weekend at U.S. Bank Stadium will include a basketball shot clock, a buzzer sounding and the teams trotting onto a court rather than a gridiron.
What won't happen is interloping in the home locker room for the Vikings, who will be out of town Sunday to play New England; the squads instead will use the visitors' locker room, designed to be divided and accommodate four teams.
Neither the NCAA's massive center-hung scoreboard nor the stadium's custom darkening curtains will be in place this weekend.
The curtains, purchased by the Metropolitan Sports Facilities Authority (MSFA) for $5.2 million, aren't ready yet.
They are required by the NCAA to maintain uniform lighting for all Final Four games and team practices.
Attendance this weekend is expected to be about 15,000 fans on each night. Tickets are $15 for an evening.
But April's attendance is expected to surpass that of Super Bowl LII at the stadium last February.
Talty expects 70,000 college hoops fans in the building then, and tickets will cost considerably more than $15.
This weekend's first game will tip off about 6 p.m. Friday with the University of St. Thomas playing the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, followed by the Gophers and the Cowboys.
On Saturday, North Dakota State University will play Drake University from Des Moines in the first game. South Dakota State University will take on the University of Northern Iowa in the second game.
Rochelle Olson · 612-673-1747 Twitter: @rochelleolson
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