TUCSON, AZ - Repeating a scene from 13 years ago, several hundred Arizona fans and Tucson police clashed in the streets late Saturday following the University of Arizona basketball team's loss to Wisconsin in the NCAA tournament.
Authorities said 15 people were arrested after fans hurled beer bottles and firecrackers at officers, who then used pepper spray to disperse the crowd. No officers were hurt, but three people who were arrested had minor injuries in the unrest that lasted more than an hour, police said. Meanwhile, officials at the University of Arizona vowed to punish any students who participated in the fracas.
The clash began after crowds leaving bars and restaurants near campus filled University Boulevard after the game, Tucson police Sgt. Pete Dugan said. He said officers fired pepper spray, pepper canisters and pepper balls to try to get people to leave the business-lined thoroughfare. Earlier Saturday, Arizona lost 64-63 to Wisconsin in the West Region final in Anaheim, Calif.
"We've been training for this event for several months now," Dugan said. "It got a little rowdy and it got a little violent, but no businesses suffered any damage."
The melee resembled what happened in 2001, when police arrested 17 people after Arizona lost to Duke in the championship game. But in that clash, a student lost an eye after he was struck by a beanbag filled with lead birdshot fired by Tucson police and around 22 businesses suffered some damage.
In a statement, Dean of Students Kendal Washington White called Saturday's disturbance "disappointing" and said it was not reflective of the culture of the University of Arizona or Tucson.
"Our basketball team had a great season, and they exhibited exceptional class at every turn," White said. "They do not deserve the bad actions of these others."
White said all students who are found to have violated the school's code of conduct "will be held accountable."
Police brought in cruisers and a unit of officers with batons, helmets and face masks to block the street when people started tossing beer bottles, cans and firecrackers, hitting police vehicles and endangering officers.
Most of those arrested were cited and released, and one person was booked into jail, Dugan said.
A witness, David Kitaeff, told The Associated Press that the incident started innocently with people taking photos, but then "people got in cops' faces." He said fans were throwing drink cans at officers, whom he saw marching down University Boulevard.