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San Diego arena evacuated as a precaution

Cox Arena in San Diego, the site of the first-round NCAA Tournament game between Alabama and Marquette, was temporarily evacuated yesterday after bomb-sniffing dogs detected ''something strange" on a food vendor's cart about two hours before tipoff.

After the FBI, police, and security officials checked, the all-clear was given two hours later. The game began at 12:50 p.m. -- 70 minutes after the original start time.

''Ultimately, after a period of time, it was determined that there was not a hazard, explosive, biohazard, whatever you would like to call it, associated with that cart," said Lieutenant Robert McManus, incident commander for the San Diego State police department.

The large silver cart, filled with condiments, straws, and paper towels, among other items, initially drew the suspicion of one dog, McManus said. Another dog detected the same thing.

''Two other dogs were brought in and they didn't smell it," he said.

FBI spokeswoman Jan Caldwell initially said the dogs detected a package inside a 4-by-6-inch condiment container in the cart located on the upper concourse of San Diego State's arena. A bomb robot was sent to the scene, she said.

''Ultimately, there was not an object. It was the cart in general that was under suspicion when the dogs alerted on it," McManus said. He said investigators were not sure what the first two dogs detected.

The dogs are trained by the Transportation Security Administration and have worked on presidential visits to San Diego, McManus said.

Investigators removed the cart from the arena.

''Not because we thought it was still a hazard," McManus said. ''We just want to double-check and see if we can determine what substance, if any, the dog alerted on."

''We will continue to remain vigilant in our security planning throughout our tournament, and the safety and security of our student-athletes, teams, and fans is paramount," the NCAA said in a statement.

Fans and officials were originally told to gather behind a parking structure across the street. That structure was closed during the investigation.

Players and staff from Alabama and Marquette stayed at their hotels until they were told it was OK to enter the arena.

Authorities were alerted at 9:18 a.m., before the scheduled 10 a.m. opening of the arena, and evacuated a ''handful" of vendors who were inside, said Maurice Luque, a spokesman for the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.

Ray is ready to go
Villanova guard Allan Ray declared himself ready to play in this afternoon's Minneapolis Regional game against Monmouth in Philadelphia. ''I'm feeling fine," said Ray, who was poked in the right eye last weekend in the Wildcats' Big East tournament semifinal loss to Pittsburgh. ''I've practiced two times and I'm 100 percent. My vision is back 100 percent and I'm ready to go out there and play." . . . Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun was asked why so many people are tabbing the Huskies the best team in the country. ''We're tall, we rebound, and we make shots," said Calhoun with a laugh. ''We are devoid of a 2-guard but, in my opinion, we have the best passing guard in the country and a bunch of talented wing players. We have talent, which impresses people, and we have a lot of players with pro potential." Calhoun, whose team faces Albany tonight in its first-round game, all but conceded that sophomore forward Rudy Gay would leave school after this season for the NBA. ''I don't like the culture, but I also don't like to hold kids back from great opportunities," said Calhoun . . . Wisconsin being sent to play in Philadelphia means a bit of a homecoming for coach Bo Ryan. ''It's nice to come back to Philadelphia," he said. ''My parents and sister can drive 15 minutes and see the game, and you can't beat that. Coming back is great, but it's really about our players getting a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament." Ryan was born in nearby Chester, Pa., and he has a bachelor's degree in business administration from Wilkes (Pa.) University . . . Arizona guard Mustafa Shakur is also from Philadelphia. ''It's great to come back home," said Shakur. ''From 10th and Olney to the Wachovia Center. It's great. It's been kind of crazy. I've had at least 200 people asking for tickets." . . . Arizona has an experienced NCAA Tournament team, with its starting lineup having already played 23 tournament games, and its roster combining for 45 NCAA games.

Adams pleads innocent
An attorney for Arizona's Hassan Adams has entered an innocent plea for his client to charges of drunken driving and speeding. Neither Adams nor attorney Stephen P. Waitt appeared yesterday in court in Tucson for the arraignment. But a notice of appearance was delivered to the judge, canceling the need for Adams to appear. The Wildcats' leading scorer was arrested March 5 on suspicion of driving 40 miles per hour in a 30-m.p.h. zone near the university. Two breath tests he took showed alcohol levels of 0.121 and 0.124, according to police. The presumed level of impairment in Arizona is 0.08. Adams was suspended for the Pac-10 tournament but will be available for today's game against Wisconsin . . . Hampton coach Bobby Collins resigned, two days after his team lost the play-in game. The Pirates went 65-57 in four seasons under Collins and reached the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament championship three times, winning the title last week. Hampton lost, 71-49, to Monmouth Tuesday in the game to see which team would play Villanova in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. ''We appreciate all of his contributions to the men's basketball program," interim athletic director Joe Taylor said in a statement. ''We wish him well in all future endeavors." . . . Montana beat Nevada, 87-79, in the Minneapolis Regional, meaning at least one No. 12 seed has beaten a No. 5 in 17 of the last 18 tournaments. Wisconsin-Milwaukee did it last season with an 83-73 victory over Alabama. Yesterday marked the 25th time a 12 beat a 5 since that run began in 1989. The only year the 12 vs. 5 upset didn't happen in that span was 2000 . . . The Southeastern Conference got off to a perfect start. Florida, Tennessee, Alabama, and Louisiana State all won their first-round games, not bad for a conference ranked fourth behind the Big Ten, Atlantic Coast, and Big East by the computers. Arkansas, which plays Bucknell today, and Kentucky, which faces UAB, are both No. 8 seeds.

Mark Blaudschun of the Globe staff contributed to this report from Philadelphia.

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