Facing two more potential court-stormings if they don’t win this weekend, the Arizona Wildcats have decided enough is enough.
Already having giddy opposing fans rush the court even before time ran out during two losses earlier this month, Arizona is now planning to ask the Pac-12 to consider a penalty for teams whose fans storm the court before the Wildcats have a chance to leave it.
“I do think we need to look at it from a safety standpoint,” Arizona AD Greg Byrne said Tuesday. “Just like any year, we have new ideas and thoughts to discuss, and one of the things that will probably come up is if there’s a way to prevent court-storming.
“I’m not sure if I have the solution, but I want to discuss it.”
The SEC already has a policy that schools face a $5,000 fine for a first offense when fans storm the court, but Arizona could also seek that a technical foul be assessed to teams with fans on the court — a penalty that could affect the game’s outcome.
UA coach Sean Miller, however, did not speak in detail about Arizona’s position when asked during Tuesday’s Pac-12 teleconference call. The Wildcats, who will play at Utah tonight and Colorado on Saturday, lost at Cal on Feb. 1 and ASU on Friday.
“I don’t want to take away from the victories of Arizona State and Cal,” he said. “I’m sure our conference will take a long look at how to improve it and take the next step.”
ASU coach Herb Sendek, whose fans raced onto the court Friday at the end of the Sun Devils’ 69-66 win over UA, looked at both sides of the issue.
“It’s a long-standing tradition in college basketball where teams storm the court after their home team has big wins, but you could certainly foresee possible danger,” Sendek said. “Our administration would have to weigh the costs of that and make a decision at a conference level.”
Then again, UA guard T.J. McConnell has an idea that can make all of this a moot point —
not giving fans anything to rave about in the first place.
But doing so probably won’t be easy tonight, in front of an expected five-figure, near-sellout crowd at the Huntsman Center, where Utah is 16-1 this season.
“We pretty much know when teams play us they’re going to play their best, and they’re gonna sell out their arena, maybe for the first time when we come there,” McConnell said.
“It’s kind of their Super Bowl when we play them, and we’re used to that.
“We’ve seen people rush the floor twice, and we’re going to try to make sure that doesn’t happen again.”
But even by the rough standards of road games the Wildcats have already faced this season — at San Diego State, Michigan, UCLA and Cal – tonight’s atmosphere could be even more intimidating.
Utah is averaging more than 10,000 fans per game for the first time since 2006, and 12,138 for home Pac-12 games, second only to Arizona. The Utes (17-8, 6-7) are expecting a near-sellout tonight in their 15,000-seat arena, even though the game is scheduled for 8 p.m. on a potentially snowy midweek night.
The revival of interest in the once-proud Utah program is a nice sight for Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak, who went 6-25 during his first season in 2011-12.
“This is a heck of a place,” Kryst-
kowiak said. “There’s a little bit of sense of pride in our program knowing we’re headed in the right direction.
“We’ve got great support. It feels great. We enjoy playing at home. It’s a lot of fun, and I think that’s what college basketball is all about.”
If there’s a spoiler to all this tonight, McConnell might be at the center of it. The way he spoke earlier this week, he thought he should have been in UA’s double-overtime loss at ASU on Friday.
Always fast to give credit elsewhere when things are going good — and fast to take the blame when they aren’t — McConnell pretty much put the 69-66 loss at ASU on his shoulders.
He had six turnovers to just two assists, an upside-down ratio for an ideal point guard. McConnell had been averaging nearly three assists for every turnover entering the ASU game.
“To have six turnovers as a point guard is … I think that’s a career high for me,” said Mc-
Connell, who hadn’t had more than four at Arizona this season. “It was just some dumb decisions on my part and just trying to force the issue to get people the ball. I think it pretty much cost us ultimately.”
It was a difficult sight for UA coach Sean Miller, who has been overly supportive of McConnell all season, but watched the Wildcats total 15 turnovers at ASU.
“Fifteen turnovers is a lot, and most of the turnovers happened before the overtime periods,” he said. “Uncharacteristically, T.J. had six of them, and to me he’s as good of a point guard in terms of taking care of the ball as there is.”
McConnell has an excuse. Even as a guard, he’s arguably dealing with the loss of forward Brandon Ashley as much as anybody, not only having to find different distribution targets but also taking more and more shots as defenses focus on stopping UA’s post play.
So on Friday, when he wasn’t scrambling to try to find teammates to pass to, McConnell took a season-high 15 shots. He made seven of them.
“I know teams have been doing the scouting, and they’ve been playing off me a little bit,” McConnell said. “When I drive, they’re playing to either man, so it’s hard for me to pass. So if I’m open I’m going to shoot it, and if they continue to play me like that, I’m going to continue to shoot.”
The problem is, that’s all a lot to handle. Teammates to find. Shots to take when they’re guarded.
And tonight, a five-figure crowd looking to storm the court again.
“I think I pressed a little too much in (the ASU) game, and it might have cost us,” McConnell said. “But that’s on me, and I gotta manage the offense better from now on. So I’m not going to make that mistake again.”