PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas — It doesn't take long to figure out the Imperial Arena feels a little different.
The temporary basketball venue that will host top-ranked Kentucky's game against Arizona State tonight is nestled within a 50,000-square-foot ballroom at the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas. It's a cozy setup complete with temporary bleachers holding about 3,500 fans closely surrounding the court, which sits atop hotel ballroom carpet peeking out around all sides.
Above is a lighting system affixed to a ceiling hanging somewhat low for a college basketball arena.
"We create that of an intimate feeling, so to say," said Quinton Brennen, the resort's executive director of special events and entertainment. "So the players are right there, and they become one with the fans and the fans become one with the players and things of that sort. You hear every scream, you hear every shout, you hear every cheer."
Located in the Imperial Ballroom at one end of Paradise Island, the arena has been a busy hub for college basketball over the past week. It hosted the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament over Thanksgiving, an eight-team field that included No. 10 Louisville, No. 20 Baylor and No. 24 Michigan State.
The Bears won the championship Friday, rallying from 22 down to beat the Cardinals 66-63.
"I know our players were really excited," Baylor coach Scott Drew said after the championship game. "When they walked in, they saw it, they saw the lighting, they saw what quality of floor it was, they were really excited to play here. You know what, sometimes when you do things different, it's really neat and something they'll always remember."
Brennen said it normally takes seven or eight days to set up the basketball arena within a ballroom used for business meetings and concerts such a coming one for R&B singer John Legend. But the schedule was compressed this year due to a business convention, with Brennen saying the resort brought in extra help and had workers on overnight shifts to get it done in a little more than three days.
The Wildcats (6-0) and the Sun Devils (4-2) both practiced here Sunday to get accustomed to the arena setting. The Wildcats opened their workout to their fans who made the trip to the Bahamas. Afterward, coach John Calipari allowed them to line up and, row by row, come to midcourt to take pictures with his team.
"Anything we can do to make it special for the fans who made the trip," Calipari said afterward.
Arizona State junior guard Shannon Evans II said the biggest adjustment was the 26-foot height of the ceiling because it "feels so close and compact."
"This is a little bit different feel because it's a ballroom," Evans said. "The ceiling is kind of close down to the court. But I feel like after you get in here for a few and shoot a couple of shots, you feel fine and you kind of feel normal."
There didn't appear to be any ill effects on the teams playing in the Battle 4 Atlantis. While there were some bad shooting numbers, the teams combined to post eight shooting percentages of 45 percent or better — including Baylor's 65 percent second-half shooting and 53 percent for the game in the final against Louisville.
"They have it set up really nice for us," Kentucky senior guard Mychal Mulder said. "The lighting is good, the court's really good. I was impressed when I walked in, I didn't expect to see that. It's a pretty impressive thing to see how they got it together for us. I think we'll be just fine."