Long before anyone knew that something was dreadfully wrong, Coach Riley Wallace lay prone on the floor in front of the Hawaii bench. Most of the 4,000 fans gathered in Moby Arena for Thursday's Western Athletic Conference Basketball Tournament were watching the action on the court between Utah and Hawaii, and never saw the Hawaii coach faint.
Craig Rydalch had just scored on a layup to give Utah a 4-0 lead when Wallace grabbed the back of his head with both hands, slumped into the arms of an assistant and finally slid to the floor. Few in the crowd noticed the coach until the public address announcer said, "Can we have a physician immediately to the Rainbow bench."A hush fell over the arena, and the game was stopped. A few minutes later the teams were taken to their locker rooms, where the Utes prayed together for Wallace's health. Ten agonizing minutes later, an ambulance finally arrived and Wallace was taken to Poudre Valley Hospital. The game was postponed until this morning.
By Friday morning, doctors still were uncertain about Wallace's condition. Mike Vogl, a hospital spokesman, told reporters, "The physician has examined Coach Wallace this morning, and he is fine. He has a bit of a headache, but all tests are negative."
Riley was released from the hospital at nine this morning, and according to Vogl, doctors advised him not to attend today's Hawaii-Utah game.
Initially, it was feared that Wallace might have broken a blood vessel in the back of his head. Burtis Evans, the University of Utah team physician who examined Riley on the court, told reporters, "One of the symptoms of a ruptured blood vessel is the sudden onset of an extreme headache that does not leave. That's a possibility that has to be answered tonight."
But according to Vogl, results of a CAT-scan were normal.
"There is no indication that there is bleeding," Vogl said. "No evidence at all. He doesn't appear to be in a life-threatening situation. But it (the diagnosis) is very preliminary. We simply don't know what happened to him."
According to Hawaii reporters and officials, the 50-year-old Wallace has no history of heart problems.
Evans was among the first to arrive at the Hawaii bench when the P.A. announcer summoned a physician. He checked Wallace's pulse rate and blood pressure and quizzed him about his medical history.
"He was alert and lucid," said Evans. "He answered all the questions, and he told us to get in touch with his wife and tell her not to worry."
Even while Evans was examining Wallace, WAC officials and athletic directors were huddling outside the gym to decide the fate of the game. Finally, Commissioner Joe Kearney returned to tell the crowd that the game would be postponed until Friday morning.
"We just felt in deference to an outstanding man it was the appropriate thing to do," said Kearney. "It was a unanimous decision."
Said Utah athletic director Chris Hill, "No one would feel good playing the game when Riley could be severely ill. You don't want to play a game and then find out that it was a lot more serious than you thought it was."
At one point Majerus left the Ute locker room and joined the meeting of game officials. He volunteered to forfeit and said, "It doesn't make sense to play the game." By then the decision had already been made.
The postponement meant that the winner of this morning's Utah-Hawaii game would have to play two games Friday - the second one against BYU later that night. There was little other choice. If the second game had been pushed ahead one day, it would have forced the final to be played on Sunday, which would have been unacceptable for BYU, or Monday, the day after NCAA tournament pairings are to be announced.
The game was to be resumed this morning from the point it had stopped - with 18:15 remaining in the first half and Utah leading 4-0.
Majerus, who missed most of the 1990-91 season after undergoing open heart surgery, was clearly shaken by the incident. "I've been there," he said, referring to Riley's situation. Majerus planned to visit the hospital Thursday night, but before he left, he told reporters, "If he's not OK, we probably won't play the game (Friday). I'll refund everybody's money."