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Post-game rushes put basketball players at mercy of fans

CHRIS CODUTO/Arizona Daily Wildcat
A California fan screams in celebration after the unranked Bears defeated Arizona 87-83 at Haas Pavilion in Berkeley, Calif., earlier this month.
By Brett Fera and Mitra Taj
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, February 19, 2004
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Three seconds left.

That's all that stands between thousands of rabid basketball fans, an upset win, and the party of their lives at center court. It's a situation the UA men's basketball team knows all too well.

As the 14th-ranked Wildcats head to hostile McArthur Court, aptly known as "The Pit," to take on the Oregon Ducks tonight, another court-rushing scenario like those after consecutive losses at Washington, California and Stanford isn't all that far-fetched.

But UA athletics officials said protecting players from scenarios like the stampede that paralyzed 18-year-old Tucson High School senior Joe Kay following an upset victory is nearly impossible.

"We're really at the mercy of the intelligence of the crowd to maintain common courtesy," said Suzy Mason, director of event management for the UA athletics department.

Even with additional security, there is no guaranteed protection.

"There's not much you can do about it, frankly, because we have a lot of security at our games here and away from home," UA men's basketball head coach Lute Olson said. "And it was shown at Stanford that all the security in the world wouldn't keep that crowd from rushing."

Security at McKale Center ÷ capacity 14,565 ÷ typically consists of a combination of security officials from private companies and the UAPD, who work with other agencies, Mason said.

But playing on the road is more of a concern, as Mason said fans are more likely to rush after an upset victory over prominent programs like Arizona.

Sophomore forward Andre Iguodala said he used his arm to block a fan making his way for him during Arizona's last-second loss at Stanford earlier this month.

"I think he popped right back up," said the sophomore forward. "Then another guy ran into me and he just missed. It's kind of hard. · You don't know what the fans are doing; you think they want to rush the floor but they maybe want to touch you, come up close to you. So you try and get off the floor as quick as possible."

One security guard was assigned to keep watch on Olson during the contest at Maples Pavilion, while four were assigned to keep tabs on the UA team, said Carl Reed, assistant athletic director facilities operations and events at Stanford.

During the Cardinal win, students climbed over the front row of chairs and trampled Gerry Plunkett, wife of former NFL quarterback and Stanford alum Jim Plunkett.

She suffered no serious injuries, but the game's aftermath added to a concern that had already sparked greater visiting-team security prior to the UA-Stanford matchup itself.

"With that game, we were initially thinking that our fans really haven't done that in the past," Reed said. "We just wanted to be prepared. If they do decide to storm the court, first and foremost, disabled patrons ÷ patrons in wheelchairs ÷were protected."

Reed added that UC Berkeley officials took similar security measures during the second-ranked Cardinal's next game, at Cal.

Nearly 15 guards with ropes were in place to keep students off the court this time, Reed said, after an ugly incident last season saw fans take swings at Cardinal players and others spitting at Montgomery.

"(Montgomery) really didn't feel that he needed it, but it was more of a concern to make sure the players got on and off the court OK."

The last time fans rushed the court at McKale Center was during a 96-86 UA win over UCLA in 2002, a game in which the Wildcats came back from being down 20 points in the second half to pull out the victory.

Iguodala, sophomore Hassan Adams and junior Channing Frye visited Kay in the hospital last week. Iguodala said while Kay's spirits were up, he couldn't move one side of his body or answer the trio's questions with more than a single word.

Adams said he still worries about the possibility of rushing fans.

"You think, ÎHopefully it doesn't happen to me.' It's weird though. It's not normal," Adams said, adding that court rushes are normally positive experiences. "You love for your fans to just treat you like kings."

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