TUCSON, Ariz.—Wisconsin was hoping all week to stay cool. They should have brought some ponchos.
Thanks to tropical storm Javier, Tucson was hit with strong thunderstorms Saturday afternoon that postponed the Badgers game with Arizona for 88 minutes beginning at 2:09 p.m. local time.
Sporadic lightning could be seen in the distance for 20 minutes prior to the delay but with 6:13 left in the second quarter and the game tied, 0-0, the storm drew too close for comfort. As the players made their way for the tunnels, the skies opened up, sending fans scrambling for shelter or the exits.
"There was one point we didn't even know whether we would be able to finish the game," Badger head coach Barry Alvarez said. "It looked like there was a span of about an hour or an hour-and-half of (lightning) and then another band behind that with lightning."
Only a smattering of fans remained through the 88-minute delay, particularly after security personnel forced the Arizona student section to disperse from the first level east grandstand. When the game resumed about half the original crowd returned.
At 3:22 p.m. officials announced that the game would resume after the teams had 15 minutes to re-warm-up. Halftime was cancelled as a result of the delay. Play commenced at 3:37.
During the delay the Badgers were sandwiched in the cramped visitors' locker room at Arizona Stadium. As they waited, water flooded in through the doorway to the room and dripped in through leaks in the ceiling.
"Water is just running in under both doors," offensive coordinator Brian White said. "It was like a flood in there…it was beyond belief. You couldn't imagine what happened today in your wildest imagination."
"Yeah, it's a small room, but I hang out with these kids every day for like six hours a day," fullback Matt Bernstein said. "So to be around them when it's cramped, I don't think it's a real big deal."
The delay was the first weather-related delay for an Arizona home game since Sept. 11, 1993, when the start of a game against Pacific was delayed 40 minutes. It was the first time in Arizona history that a game had been halted during a contest.
Two seasons ago, Wisconsin had a game at UNLV stopped with 7:41 left in the fourth quarter due to a power outage. The last weather-related delay was a 31-minute stoppage due to lightning prior to a Badger home game against Virginia three years ago.
Alvarez and Arizona coach Mike Stoops considered canceling the game Saturday due to the length of the expected delay and the effect it could have on their players.
"I told (Mike Stoops), we have to worry about the safety of our players sitting in the locker room for three hours, then going back out and playing (six) minutes and a second half. I just don't think that's right," Alvarez said, alluding to how long the delay could have been had they waited until all potential storm cells had passed.
Another storm cell passed Tucson with little incident, aside from a few bolts of lightning. Had the game been stopped again, officials said, it would have been cancelled and would not have counted, regardless of the score. Arizona led 7-0 when the brief lightning took place in the distance.
"When I saw that flash of lightning I was a little scared but I knew that people wanted to play this game," Bernstein said. "Arizona wanted to play. They didn't want to stop the game. Overall, it was great that we were able to push through."
"After we went back out I just thought we would finish the game," Alvarez said.
Even before the rain hit it was an overcast day in Tucson. The game time temperature read 88 degrees and it dropped to the low 70s by the time the final whistle blew. All told Tucson received .37 inches of rain Saturday, nearly double what the city had received all month prior to Saturday.
"I think we probably got a break by having an overcast day. The weather was not a factor before it started raining," Alvarez said.
"That was a bizarre day," White said.
Oh that desert rain
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