LAS VEGAS — Arizona Wildcats senior guard Kevin Parrom walked out of the tunnel into a new arena … and got a big whiff of McKale Center.
“I was thinking, ‘We can’t lose for our fans. There are too many fans here,’” he said. “It was like a home game.”
In a neutral court game that rivaled the atmosphere, the noise and intensity of a sold-out McKale Center, Arizona beat Colorado 79-69 in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
The arena was nearly full, with the announced attendance at 12,915, a couple hundred shy of what conference officials say is capacity for the event.
The Colorado fans, as they showed last season, are loud and boisterous. But Arizona is inarguably the best-represented team here as the tournament has shifted from the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
“I’m so proud of our fans,” said athletic director Greg Byrne.
“We’ve been encouraging them for the last year since it was announced we were coming (to Las Vegas), saying, ‘Hey, let’s take it over.’
“When I was in the SEC, Kentucky would take over the SEC tournament every year, and because of the passion of our fans we should be doing the same thing. And we did. Hopefully, this is something that continues to grow, where everybody says every year, ‘I’m going to be here.’”
Byrne said the university sold about 1,800 tickets.
“But every day I would run into somebody who would say, ‘I bought somewhere else, I bought them through the MGM, I bought them through another school,’” Byrne said.
Arizona fans like to call Arizona State’s Wells Fargo Arena “McKale North” as red-and-blue-clad fans show up for the rivalry game. So, what’s the MGM Grand Garden Arena?
McKale Vegas? McKale on The Strip?
“It was very exciting,” said senior Solomon Hill. “Colorado did a great job of bringing their fan base out, too, but our fans were a little bit louder tonight.”