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Arizona prepared to play in ‘silent gym’ after Pac-12 Tournament gets closed to fans due to coronavirus

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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 11 Pac-12 Tournament - Washington v Arizona Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

LAS VEGAS—If you happened to be at the Arizona Wildcats’ game on Wednesday, hold onto that ticket stub. It may be worth something since that looks like the last time most fans will get to watch this year’s team in person.

The NCAA announced earlier Wednesday that the upcoming NCAA Tournament will be played without spectators due to the worldwide coronavirus pandemic, and the Pac-12 followed suit by closing the remaining three full days of the Pac-12 Tournament at T-Mobile Arena to the public.

That means Arizona’s quarterfinal game against the USC Trojans at 2:30 p.m. PT will be played in a nearly empty arena that seats 18,000 for basketball and had an announced crowd of 8,038 for Wednesday’s early session, which ended with the Wildcats beating the Washington Huskies 77-70.

The same will apply for wherever Arizona is sent for the first weekend of the NCAA tourney. Whether it’s Albany or Sacramento or Tampa, the only people wearing UA colors will be on the bench or part of the “limited family attendance” that will be allowed at each venue.

“It’s crazy,” senior Dylan Smith said. “March Madness, growing up, you’d always see big games, big arena. Everybody dreams of their family coming to those games. I know my family was looking forward to it. But it’s a safety precaution, coronavirus is serious.”

All 17 of the Wildcats’ games at McKale Center this season drew at least 12,755 fans, while the smallest crowds they play in front of away from home came during the Wooden Legacy over Thanksgiving weekend when the 3-day tourney averaged crowds of 2,121 for Arizona’s games with a low of 1,574.

“It’s going to be awkward in a silent gym without the big crowd that comes with it,” Smith said. “You’ll just have to fight through it.”

Arizona had a sizable cheering section for Wednesday’s first round game, and it was likely to see many fans travel for the NCAA tourney. Instead they’ll be watching from TVs or online while the Wildcats and their opponents will play in an atmosphere that coach Sean Miller said will “definitely be different” but one he completely supports.

“Obviously there’s some brilliant people in our world,” he said. “If that’s the decision I’m sure it’s very well thought out and it’s in the best interest of these guys. And that’s what counts the most. To protect our players, our student athletes to the best of our ability.

“I’m sure that decision was one that was hard to make. But we’ll show up, and if we’re a part of (the NCAA) tournament I don’t think it will affect our effort. Clearly it’ll be different for everybody that’s a part of it.”