As the final minutes played out, victory secured, a familiar chant filled T-Mobile Arena on Wednesday evening.
“U of A!” bellowed the sizable contingent of Arizona fans.
It was a sound that won’t be heard in the coming days in the Pac-12 Conference men’s basketball tournament, no matter how far the Wildcats advance. Arizona is moving on without its horde of fans, who were barred from the rest of the event along with the supporters of every other remaining team over growing concerns about the spread of coronavirus.
Pac-12 officials made the announcement Wednesday evening, saying no fans would be allowed to attend games after similar mandates were made by the Big Ten and Big 12 conferences. The NCAA announced earlier in the day that no fans would be allowed to attend men’s and women’s NCAA tournament games starting next week.
The change in protocol means that UCLA and USC will play their quarterfinal games Thursday in a largely empty arena. The Pac-12 said only essential staff, television network partners, credentialed media and limited family and friends would be allowed to attend.
The conference said the decision was made based on new information, including the recommendation of the NCAA’s COVID-19 advisory panel. Similar fan limitations will apply to all Pac-12 sporting events until further notice.
“While we understand the disruption this will cause to our many fans,” the conference said in a statement, “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.”
Arizona guard Dylan Smith said playing in front of no fans would require an adjustment.
“It’s crazy, March Madness, you always see big games, big arenas,” Smith said. “But it’s a safety precaution. The coronavirus is a serious thing. You’ve got to wash your hands and bathe and hope not to get it.
“It’s a big blow. It’s going to be awkward playing in a silent gym without the crowds. It comes with it, we’ll just have to work through it.”
The Pac-12 said it would continue to analyze and implement updated recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as state and local health authorities, taking any additional steps deemed necessary to protect the health of participants and attendees.