SALT LAKE CITY
The first court-rush in Arizona’s age of basketball prominence came six days after 20-year-old Pitt point guard Sean Miller made his McKale Center debut in the 1988 Fiesta Bowl Classic.
It was late on a Thursday night, Jan. 5, 1989, at Stanford’s Maples Pavilion.
My column for the next day’s sports section was stuck in journalistic hell: I couldn’t start typing until I knew who won. And I couldn’t get to the press room, access to a telephone, because the Cardinal’s Six Man Club blocked every route on and off the court.
No man’s land.
The old Maples Pavilion floor vibrated in those days, but as Harvey Mason stood at the foul line with a chance to force overtime, the floor didn’t merely vibrate, it was like a 6.3 earthquake rolling through The Farm.
Mason missed and disappeared from view, engulfed by what would become — what has become — the most celebrated moment in Pac-12 basketball: beating Arizona.
Such games have created a new statistic. Opposing crowds have now stormed the court after 11 of Arizona’s last 12 road losses.
The only accurate statistic is this: No Arizona players or coaches have been injured in any of those court stampedes. That’s a basketball miracle, especially given two postgame melees at the Pit in Albuquerque, when UA players and coaches were trapped by celebrating Lobos fans.
At Oregon State’s Gill Coliseum in 1999, a bad OSU team beat No. 9 Arizona 60-59, and chaos ensued. The league’s best player, Jason Terry, was bumped around by the gathering swarm.
He took a roundhouse punch at a Beaver student. Thank God he missed.
Or maybe it would have been better had Terry’s uppercut connected. Maybe then, in 1999, the old Pac-10 administration would have acted to control postgame celebrations.
Now Terry is a 38-year-old guard for the Houston Rockets, and the Pac-12 has the same rules against rushing the court as it did in 1999. None.
Late Thursday night at Colorado’s Coors Events Center, Miller congratulated the Buffaloes for a well-earned 75-72 victory and then said: “Eventually what’s going to happen in the Pac-12 is this: An Arizona player is going to punch a fan. And they’re going to punch the fan out of self-defense.”
About 40 yards down the hallway from Arizona’s locker room, Colorado coach Tad Boyle spoke a different language.
“Why can’t the Coors Events Center be like this every night?” he asked. “It makes for a hell of a lot of fun.”
The Buffaloes were playing with fire Wednesday night. At least one student bumped/pushed UA center Kaleb Tarczewski. Another, less mature player, might have landed that punch Jason Terry missed 17 years ago.
Then it’s a national story or a lawsuit or both.
The Southeastern Conference last year implemented fines to cease “storming a competition area.” A first offense costs the school $50,000. It escalates to $100,000 and then $250,000.
The Big 12 recently said its commissioner has the power to fine a school for storming the court, or, perhaps, taking away a future home game.
Eliminating the meaningless postgame handshake line would be a good idea. It promotes dawdling and keeps the players on the court for an extended period. It also potentially creates an in-your-face confrontation with unhappy players.
Star photographer Kelly Presnell was pushed around by the raging Buffaloes students Wednesday night. He said he has lost count of how many times he has been caught in the mob after Arizona road losses.
Fortunately, he hasn’t been injured. In December, an Iowa sports columnist was trampled by onrushing Iowa State fans. His leg was broken in two places.
No coach in college basketball history has endured more court-stormings than Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski. It has been no-harm, no-foul so far, but it seems inevitable that something’s going to give.
“It’s not all fun and games when people are rushing the court, especially for the team that lost,” Krzyzewski told reporters after a 2013 loss at Virginia. “Again, congratulations to them, and they should have fun and burn benches and do all that stuff. I’m all for that. They have a great school, great kids, but get us off the court. That’s the bottom line.”
That was also Miller’s message Wednesday night. Let the Buffaloes celebrate, but please keep us safe.
Who’s next? Utah?
The Utes haven’t beaten Arizona since being admitted to the Pac-12. The Utes seem likely to break that streak Saturday, but the configuration of the Huntsman Center is such that students are mostly elevated above the court — too high to jump.
But you never know.
McKale Center fans were creative in 1999, rushing the court after beating No. 3 Stanford. Many from the UA swimming team lined up in a space behind where I sat on press row, which is a long way from the Zona Zoo. At the final buzzer, they virtually jumped over me, or catapulted from my desktop area, to get on the court. My laptop hit the ground. The Associated Press writer next to me fell from his chair and landed in my lap.
Nobody was maimed.
It all goes to Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott now. He has been tardy in initiating legislation to make postgame celebrations safe.
I wonder if the league would have been so late to act had, say, USC or Stanford, two administrative heavyweights, been subjected to such rowdy behavior.
So far this has been a problem singular to Arizona.
Tempers are short in college basketball; the games have gained too much meaning and attention. Utah recently eliminated future games against BYU because of a flagrant foul, of all things.
Miller was right to break the school’s silence Wednesday. I’m eager to hear if Larry Scott is as quick to fix the problem as he was to fine Miller $25,000 for getting a technical foul a few years ago.
We must remain civil, right?