The vast corridors of the MGM Grand are a mob scene. You can’t possibly get from Point A to Point B swiftly because you are blocked, gridlock, by people in red Arizona gear.
It is the same at 10 a.m. as it is at 10 p.m. Red everywhere. It is a celebration of Arizona basketball. It is what you would imagine if Arizona ever goes to the Rose Bowl.
“I’ve seen this before, it’s the type of culture you see in the SEC,” said Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne, formerly AD at Mississippi State and an assistant AD at Kentucky.
“In the SEC it was always Big Blue Country, whether it was in Nashville or Atlanta. Kentucky basketball took over every SEC basketball tournament. Now it’s the Red invasion in the Pac-12.”
For three days, Las Vegas Boulevard, the legendary Strip, is a piece of Arizona Wildcats property.
At 10:30 Thursday morning, I tried with little success to walk through several thousand Arizona fans to the media entry at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. It was 90 minutes before tipoff. A five-minute walk took 25 minutes. They arrive early and stay late.
Arizona sold its official allotment of 1,783 tickets, but a good estimate is that 8,000 UA fans were on site every day. Most of them are those who are not part of the 14,535 at McKale Center in the regular season.
It is a time during which they feel like winners themselves, an identity created and shared by Lute Olson 25 years ago.
In the decade the Pac-12 played its basketball tournament at Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, there was no hub, no real rallying point. It was expensive and a logistical challenge. The atmosphere inside Staples was often dull.
There is no dull at the MGM Grand.
Las Vegas is not inexpensive in any form, but it is Party Central. I’m not sure the other Pac-12 schools, especially those in the Bay Area and the Northwest, enjoy the Arizona advantage, but the money generated in Las Vegas doesn’t stay in Vegas. It is shared by all 12 schools.
“Whenever I leave my room and go downstairs, it’s crazy, no matter what time it is,” said UA guard Gabe York. “It’s like, ‘Is everybody in Tucson here?’ It seems like it.”