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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga taking steps to minimize COVID risks before WCC, NCAA Tournaments

UPDATED: Wed., March 3, 2021

Gonzaga guard Joel Ayayi, who was named West Coast Conference Tournament Most Valuable Player, drives against Saint Mary’s guard Jordan Ford during the second half of the March 10 championship game in Las Vegas. The Zags won 84-66.  (By Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga guard Joel Ayayi, who was named West Coast Conference Tournament Most Valuable Player, drives against Saint Mary’s guard Jordan Ford during the second half of the March 10 championship game in Las Vegas. The Zags won 84-66. (By Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

Gonzaga is doing everything it can to try to make sure its games in Las Vegas and Indianapolis are decided on the basketball floor.

The top-ranked Bulldogs are spending roughly a week in an off-campus hotel to reduce potential COVID-19 risks before departing Sunday for the West Coast Conference Tournament in Las Vegas.

“We’re bunkered down,” GU athletic director Mike Roth said. “In talking to some of our upperclassmen, none of them foresee it’s really going to change their day-to-day from the standpoint they’re still going to be (at the McCarthey Athletic Center) for practice and workouts, still attending classes and they’re around the people they’ve been around the most, their teammates.”

The Zags (24-0) open the tournament in Monday’s semifinals at 6 p.m. at the Orleans Arena. A win would move Gonzaga into Tuesday’s championship game for the 24th consecutive season.

The team plans to return late Tuesday to its Spokane hotel and stay for four or five days before departing for Indianapolis. The entire NCAA Tournament will be held in the Indianapolis metro area. Teams that are tourney locks are expected to arrive on March 13 or 14.

“Is it overkill? Maybe, but I don’t think there is such a thing based on what we all experienced last year (when the NCAA Tournament was canceled),” Roth said. “Nobody wants to experience that again, that’s something we can never get back.

“We want to make sure we’re doing everything in our power to make sure whatever happens throughout the postseason is decided on the court.”

Another issue that came up recently was people seeking autographs or pictures with players after games or on campus.

“As much as we like doing things with our fans, it’s just a safety thing,” Roth said.

The Gonzaga women’s team “is bunkered down in their own way,” Roth said. “That’s the choice of the coaches and student-athletes. They have six seniors on that team so they discussed it – here’s the options leading into San Antonio – and they’re doing it differently.”

Gonzaga opens the WCC women’s tournament in the semifinals at 11 a.m. Monday.

The Zags’ hotel in Las Vegas has safety measures in place, including a separate entrance and access to the team’s floor by key cards only. The tournament will be down to four teams when GU arrives Sunday.

No fans will be permitted to attend tournament games. There are three-hour windows between tip-off times, providing additional time for cleaning and preventing teams waiting to play from being in the tunnel when teams that just finished exit the court.

“The league is taking a tremendous number of precautions,” Roth said. “We just need to continue to be vigilant with that. The good part is exposure team to team over the season with everybody around the country has been really minimal. The exposures that have taken place for the most part are within the team and the team environment away from the game.”

NCAA Tournament safety protocols will be strict.

“Other than practice and games, nearly everything will take place on the same floor (of the hotel),” Roth said. “The meeting room is on the same floor, food served in the meeting rooms. You’re not going to be allowed to go to the lobby and hang out or go down to the restaurant or a coffee shop.”

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