What is normally a celebration of basketball on the Las Vegas Strip became a ball of confusion as the Pacific 12 Conference announced Wednesday that spectators will be barred from entering T-Mobile Arena, beginning with Thursday’s quarterfinals.
The Pac-12 tourney runs through Saturday.
The decision was made following the NCAA’s announcement earlier in the day that it will not allow spectators to attend its men’s or women’s basketball tournaments, including both Final Fours. Several other conferences also barred fans from its tournaments this week, including the Big 12 and the Big Ten.
“While we understand the disruption this will cause to our many fans, we have made this decision in an effort to do our part in helping to limit the spread of the virus and in the interest of the health and safety of our student-athletes, campus communities, working and volunteer event personnel and all those who attend Pac-12 events,” the conference said in a statement.
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Fortunately for Arizona, it benefitted from having a good chunk of the 8,048 fans who attended Wednesday afternoon’s opening session. The Wildcats, who are trying to secure a spot in the NCAAs, advanced to play USC in the quarterfinals after eliminating Washington 77-70.
Earlier in the day, Oregon State rallied from a 14-point second-half deficit to edge Utah 71-69. The Beavers will face Oregon in Thursday’s first quarterfinal.
Arizona (21-11) ramped up its perimeter defense after having lost to the Huskies last week in Tucson, 69-63. Washington (15-17) normally shoots 32 percent from long distance, made just 13 percent of its 3-pointers Wednesday, hitting on just 3 of 23 attempts.
“You know, our defense has quietly grown this season,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said. “These guys know it. We’ve been hard at work. If you watched our team around the Thanksgiving period of time, we were much further along on offense.
“But to these guys’ credit, our defense has really, really improved. Statistically, if you look closely at our team, we probably have won more games with our defensive effort than even our offense.”
Washington’s Mike Hopkins was at a loss to explain his tam’s poor performance from beyond the arc.
“They were packing the paint so much that we were able to get some shots,” he said. “And unfortunately we had a game where we shot 3 for 23, a little bit of us and a little bit of Arizona. But in a game like this, you’ve got to be able to make some of those.”
In the afternoon session opener, the Utes appears to be on their way to a date with Oregon as Alfonso Plummer was hitting everything in sight. But the Beavers chipped away at the 39-31 halftime deficit and with a change of defense from man-to-man to a 2-3 zone plus Tres Tinkle leading the way with 19 points, Oregon State moved on to face its in-state rival from Eugene.
“I am just really, really proud of the resiliency our guys showed,” Beavers coach Wayne Tinkle said of his team, which improved to 18-13. ”I don’t know what their biggest lead was. We called a timeout, our guys responded. What we needed to do was find a group of tough guys. And we identified that group,
“Gianni Hunt was big for us in that stretch off the bench. We were wanting to go to our 1- 3-1 in the first half, but with Plummer hitting shots with blindfolds on, we were worried.
“The coaches did a great job of saying he’s hitting them against man, against our 2-3, let’s give it a shot. Credit to the staff for selling that to me. And then the guys, we put them on their heels and we got some momentum going.”
Plummer, who came into the game averaging just 7.4 points, finished with a career-high 35 points. But he couldn’t win it for Utah, which fell to 16-15.
The evening session saw California advance with a 63-51 win over Bay Area rival Stanford. Cal will meet UCLA Thursday night.
In the nightcap, Colorado faced Washington State with the winner to take on Arizona State in the last quarterfinal Thursday.
The Golden Bears (14-18) outrebounded the Cardinal 36-25 and were led in scoring by Matt Bradley and Paris Austin with 18 points apiece while Kareem South added 15.
Stanford (20-12), which trailed by as many as 16 late in the game, shot just 32 percent from the floor. Daejon Davis led the Cardinal with 16 points.