Arizona's Win Over Stanford a Welcome Respite for City, Community
A few blocks further away, the flag at the front of a baptist church flew at half-staff. Well, not flew really, but hung motionless from the flagpole on a windless winter day, adding to the feeling of heaviness in the heart of this city.
Five blocks away from the McKale Center, at University Medical Center, the national media had gathered - dozen of satellite trucks clogging the hospital entrance -- to keep vigil after Saturday's horrific mass shooting in front of a grocery story on the other side of town.
Six people were killed, 14 others were wounded, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was holding a constituents' meet-and-greet on a brisk Saturday morning days after she was sworn-in for a third term.
Giffords is recovering from brain surgery and the news was positive on Sunday morning as doctors said she was able to communicate, though she remained critical.
The community of Tucson needed a lift and they got it from their beloved Wildcats basketball team.
The nearly full house at McKale cheered passionately for the Wildcats in their 67-57 win over Pac-10 foe Stanford on Sunday, a spirited contrast to the somber moments before the game began.
University president Robert Shelton addressed the silent crowd before the game, thanking Stanford for being willing to reschedule and lauding first-responders who worked at the scene of the shooting and university hospital staff who treated the injured.
"Without their efforts we would have had a lot of dead people right now in Tucson," Shelton said.
Shelton's address was followed by a moment of silence, and Shelton took his seat courtside.
There was an increased police presence at Sunday's game, which had been postponed from its previously scheduled Saturday evening tip-off, Arizona athletic department officials scrambling in the immediate aftermath of the shooting to determine the right thing to do.
Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne said he quickly worked on the postponement after hearing about the shooting, knowing that the two-dozen university and city police officers who usually provide security would be needed elsewhere.
Byrne said he was in contact with Tom Jernstedt, the former vice president of the NCAA, who handled the situation when President Ronald Reagan was shot on March 30, 1981, the night of the national championship game.
"The difference between that and this was that this was a national incident and while this certainly touched on the national stage, this was about local resources," Byrne said. "First and foremost, we felt like we had to respect the families, we wanted to make sure the attention was there. And from a resources standpoint, we had 14,000 people coming here for a basketball game and we wanted to make sure local law enforcement was paying attention to what was going on there."
Sunday's game was a salve to a grieving community, a respite.
It was also a fairly important early-season game in the Pac-10, with the Wildcats still trying to find a consistent level of play and a surprising Stanford team coming off a win at Arizona State Thursday night.
Arizona forward Solomon Hill said the Wildcats wanted to "help the city out."
"We wanted to give the fans a reason to get up and clap," Hill said. "It would have been terrible to get a loss today."
Arizona coach Sean Miller held a team meeting Saturday after the postponement where he said he "painted a picture of reality." The Arizona players wore a black ribbon on their uniforms to remember the victims.
"I hope in some way that winning today's game has a healing effect on our community," Miller said. "Hopefully we could take people's minds off things for a little and it allowed people to be together for a different purpose."
Senior Jamelle Horne (photo, above right), coming in off the bench, finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds. He was 4 of 4 from beyond the 3-point arc, providing a big performance in what has been an inconsistent season for Horne. Star sophomore Derrick Williams added 14 points and nine rebounds.
Arizona also ruled the boards, out-rebounding Stanford 41-26 as the Cardinal tried to play a zone to counter the Wildcats inside. And the Wildcats finished with 10 three-pointers. The Cardinal could only connect on 2 of 12 from beyond the arc.
"Arizona rebounded well and got a lot of second-chance points," said Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins. "We've been doing a good job on the boards, but tonight we did not."
Stanford, which was playing for its first Arizona road sweep since 2003-204, got off to a strong start and took an early lead, up 14-9 a little more than five minutes into the game. But the Cardinal cooled offensively.
Arizona outscored Stanford (9-5, 2-1) 18-6 over the final 8:56 of the first half to take a 39-28 lead at the half and led by 15 points with 9:40 left in the game.
Junior Jeremy Green scored eight points in a five-minute stretch to push Stanford to cut Arizona's lead to 59-54 with 4:00 to go, the Cardinal going on an 11-3 run after being down 56-43. But a pair of big three-pointers down the stretch by Horne kept the Wildcats, who are two wins away from matching their win total from last season, in the lead for good.
The largest crowd of the season watched Sunday's game a little more than 24 hours after one of the darkest days in Tucson history. The Wildcats gave them a reason to feel good.
"Our players love our fans and they love playing in McKale more than you can imagine," Miller said. "We wanted to beat Stanford, sure, but I think we also wanted to give everyone something to feel good about for a brief moment."