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College Basketball: UWRF makes history at U.S. Bank Stadium

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The UW-River Falls men's basketball team takes on the University of St. Thomas in the first ever basketball game at U.S. Bank Stadium Friday, Nov. 30, in Minneapolis. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 2 / 5
UW-River Falls' senior Clay Seifert of Prescott drives too the basket in the Falcons' 85-70 loss to the University of St. Thomas in the first game of the U.S. Bank Stadium Basketball Classic Friday, Nov. 30, in Minneapolis. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 3 / 5
UW-River Falls' senior Clay Seifert of Prescott puts up a contested shot in the first half of the Falcons' 85-70 loss to the University of St. Thomas in the first game of the U.S. Bank Stadium Basketball Classic Friday, Nov. 30, in Minneapolis. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 4 / 5
UW-River Falls' senior Austin Heidecker drives to the basket in the first half of the Falcons' 85-70 loss to the University of St. Thomas in the first game of the U.S. Bank Stadium Basketball Classic Friday, Nov. 30, in Minneapolis. Bob Burrows / RiverTown Multimedia 5 / 5

A little over four months from now, all eyes in the college basketball world will be focused on U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis for the NCAA Division I Men's Final Four.

And the UW-River Falls Falcons will be thinking-- been there, done that.

The Falcons and the University of St. Thomas made history by playing the very first basketball game at U.S. Bank Stadium, home of the Minnesota Vikings, in the kickoff of the U.S. Bank Stadium Basketball Classic Friday night, Nov. 30. And even though the Falcons lost 85-70, it was a night the players will ever forget.

“It was a once in a lifetime experience,” Falcon senior Austin Heidecker said. “We've been playing basketball our entire lives and never thought we'd have the chance to do this.”

The game was part of a four-game showing at U.S. Bank Stadium over the weekend in preparation for hosting the 2019 Final Four. In addition to hosting Viking home games, the three year-old facility was the site of Super Bowl LII last February, the ESPN X Games the past two years, and will play host to the 2020 NCAA Division I Wrestling Championships.

The NCAA requires the host venue to hold at least one basketball game in advance of March Madness. While not a full dress rehearsal for this April, this weekend's games gave organizers a chance to see how the stadium's lights, acoustics, scoreboard, locker rooms and seating will perform for basketball.

The court was transported in 219 pieces from the Denny Sanford Premier Center in Sioux Falls, S.D, and laid on a platform before the hoops were locked and raised. 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.

While this court sat in the south end zone in anticipation of 15,00 fans for each session, the court for the Final Four will be placed right in the middle of the stadium in expectation of 70,000 fans.

While just a fraction of that number were on hand for the UWRF-St. Thomas game Friday night, Heidecker said he and his teammates were still thrilled to be on the floor.

“When we were freshmen we got to play at the Kohl Center, but this is even cooler because it's the first game that's ever been played here,” he said. “We lost, but we got a once in a lifetime opportunity and I'm thankful for it.”

It wasn't the first memory of a lifetime the Falcons have experienced in the young season. The team traveled to Colorado Springs for a tournament the week before Thanksgiving where the players got a chance to tour the U.S. Olympic Training Center and hold a practice at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

“I think it was really special for us to go out to Colorado and then come back and play here,” Prescott native Clay Seifert said. “It's been a cool experience; a really good team bonding experience. We've got a lot of new guys and it's kind of brought us all together and closer; kind of like a big family thing. Hopefully we'll learn from the loss and move on.”

The University of Minnesota defeated Oklahoma State University 83-76 in Friday's second game. Saturday's matchups featured North Dakota State and Drake, followed by South Dakota State and Northern Iowa.

Bob Burrows

Bob Burrows has been sports editor at the River Falls Journal since 1996 and at the Hudson Star-Observer since 2009. Prior to joining the Journal, Burrows served as sports editor with Ledger Publications in Balsam Lake, Wis. A native of Bayonne, N.J. and a U.S. Navy veteran, Burrows attended Marquette University before completing his studies at UW-River Falls in 1992.

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