Utah women's basketball team forced to move hotels after 'hate crimes'

The Utah women's basketball team checked into a luxurious lakeside resort in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho last Thursday before its first-round NCAA Tournament game.

The next morning, after what NCAA coach Lynne Roberts described as “racist crimes,” the Utes scrambled to stay elsewhere.

Roberts waited to reveal what happened until after Utah's season ended Monday night with a 77-66 second-round loss to Gonzaga in Spokane. The Utah coach described the incidents as “shocking” and said “nobody knows how to handle it.”

“It was very sad,” Roberts said. “Our players and staff don't feel safe in an NCAA tournament environment, and that's confusing.”

Utah shared more details about what its women's basketball team endured in a joint statement released Tuesday evening by Roberts, athletic director Mark Harlan and assistant athletic director Charmelle Green. “A vehicle drove by and its occupants yelled racist epithets as the basketball team and other traveling parties from Utah walked from the hotel to dinner at a Coeur d'Alene restaurant.

The Utah crew had dinner and encountered a similar situation as they left the restaurant. A vehicle reportedly drove past the group, “revving its engine with its occupants shouting racial slurs and threats.”

“As can be imagined, many students, staff and other members of the expedition team were deeply concerned and fearful after these incidents, which should have been a safe and enjoyable experience,” the Utah statement read. “With their well-being and safety in mind, we worked with Gonzaga and the NCAA to move them to alternative accommodations in Spokane.”

Tony Stewart, Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations officer, told Yahoo Sports that Utah's account is consistent with what he heard from the Coeur d'Alene Resort and other third-party sources. According to Stewart, the truck that first harassed the group displayed a Confederate flag. When the group left the restaurant, Stewart said the same driver “was still there, but he recruited reinforcements.”

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“It's very clear what they did,” Stewart said. “They are bigoted racists and they want to drive out minorities.”

Officials from Coeur d'Alene A news conference was held He addressed the allegations of racism on Tuesday morning. Mayor Jim Hammond directly apologized to the “young women who endured racial slurs during the visit” and said incidents like this “should never happen” and were “totally unacceptable”.

Coeur d'Alene Police Chief Lee White said his department was contacted at 10 p.m. Thursday about an incident that happened four hours earlier. The Coeur d'Alene Police Department is trying to speak with the victims, obtain video of the incident and locate the person who yelled the racial slur.

“Until we speak to the victims and more witnesses to this incident, it is difficult to determine whether a state or federal crime has occurred,” White said.

The Utah women's team originally stayed at the Coeur d'Alene resort, about 30 miles east of Spokane, because hotel space in Spokane was limited. Spokane was the predetermined host site for the first and second rounds of the men's NCAA Tournament, meaning hotel rooms for those eight teams were booked in advance.

Some of those room blocks opened last Friday in Spokane when the first men's teams were drawn. A source familiar with the situation told Yahoo Sports that Gonzaga and the NCAA scrambled to grab those room blocks, offering Utah and UC Irvine, the other women's teams staying in Coeur d'Alene.

“We asked to go for the well-being and safety of our student-athletes and the entire travel team,” said UC Irvine Assistant Vice Chancellor Mike Uhlenkamp.

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The NCAA later released a statement Tuesday that said it “condemns racism and hate in any form” and that it is “devastated by the Utah team's experience.” When asked if the NCAA would continue to hold events in Spokane or allow teams to stay in Coeur d'Alene, an NCAA spokesman did not respond.

Utah's joint statement described the school as “extremely disappointed to have decided to house our team in hotels so far from a tournament venue in another state.”

“We will work with NCAA leadership to clarify that the removal from the site so far is unacceptable and a contributing factor to the impact of this incident,” Utah's statement said.

And Gonzaga Condemned the incidentsThe NCAA says its first priority is the safety and well-being of tournament participants.

“We are disappointed and deeply saddened to learn that what should always be a wonderful spectator experience and the championship experience has not been compromised in any way by this situation,” Gonzaga's statement said.

Gonzaga had previously arranged for police escorts, a source familiar with the situation added, ensuring that Utah's drive time from Coeur d'Alene to the arena in Spokane did not exceed the maximum allowed 30 minutes. According to the source, police escorts continued even after Utah checked into a Spokane hotel.

Roberts told reporters that his team's hold made it difficult for Utah players to focus on games against South Dakota State and Gonzaga.

“It's a distraction and upsetting and unfortunate,” he said. “It should be positive for everyone involved. It should be a happy time for our program. It's unfortunate that there's a bit of a black eye to this experience.”

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