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Arizona Fans Riot After Close March Madness Loss

Riot police were deployed in Tuscon last night, after University of Arizona students and fans took to the streets to vent their anger over a 1-point loss in overtime that ended their men's basketball team's hopes of playing for a national championship.

A large crowd formed on University Boulevard after watching the game at bars and restaurants near the university's Main Gate Square — and not far from where police had been positioned earlier in the night. The fans chanted "U of A," according to student newspaper The Daily Wildcat, along with a profane chant about Wisconsin, the school that ended their playoff run.

The students and fans refused to obey an order to leave, after Tucson police declared the crowd an unlawful assembly. Instead, they hurled beer bottles and cans and fireworks at police.

"Tucson Police fired back with 200 rounds of pepper balls, which are plastic rounds that break open and release a small amount of pepper spray," local TV news KGUN's Simone Del Rosario reports. "Police also unleashed 20 foam batons, nine pepper canisters and two larger, plastic and rubber rounds that are targeted toward specific individuals."

"Dozens of students and fans were shot with pepper balls by riot police, including a Daily Wildcateditor," the newspaper says.

One man defied police orders by walking toward them with his arms outstretched as pepper-ball rounds bounced off his chest. He was eventually tackled by several officers. That portion of the confrontation was captured on video, showing the man smiling as he walked slowly toward the police line.

Some 60-70 police officers formed ranks in the street to corral the students and fans, according to KGUN, which reports 15 arrests during the episode.

The students were frustrated by the Wildcats' 64-63 loss to Wisconsin Saturday night at the West Regional final in Anaheim, Calif. A win would have sent the team to the Final Four and a possible bid for the national title.

The game was close throughout and was marked by controversy at the end, as Arizona's star guard, Nick Johnson, was called for a foul on the offensive end with seconds remaining in overtime.

"I thought it was a really, really tough call," Wildcats coach Sean Miller said after the game, according to the Arizona Daily Star. "I'm going to stop there. I've already been fined."

Johnson and Arizona had another chance to win the game with just two seconds left. But he wasn't able to get a winning shot off before the final horn sounded.

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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