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Fans won’t be able to pump up the volume at UCLA basketball’s long-awaited return

As pop-up events go, UCLA’s basketball game against Long Beach State comes with an unusually exclusive guest list.

Only families of team members will be permitted inside Pauley Pavilion on Thursday afternoon for the Bruins’ first game in nearly a month after a rash of cancellations and postponements forced by the surging Omicron variant of the coronavirus.

The virus’ increasingly rapid spread was among the reasons that UCLA decided to bar most fans, according to people familiar with the situation who spoke with The Times on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly discuss the rationale. With cases spiking across Los Angeles County, the school did not want to host a potential superspreader event, given the number of breakthrough infections among vaccinated and boosted individuals.

Another factor was the quick turnaround involving a game that wasn’t part of the Bruin’s original schedule, leading to staffing hurdles. Many arena employees have other jobs or scheduling conflicts that would have made it difficult for them to work the game on such short notice.

UCLA also did not want students to attend the game at a time when the school is holding classes exclusively online until Jan. 18 as part of its efforts to control the virus’ spread. Excellent student turnout had helped the Bruins average 8,290 fans for home games this season.

USC and Stanford have adopted similar policies barring fans from athletic indoor venues, with the Trojans’ ban set to last through Jan. 14 and the Cardinal not announcing a timeline. UCLA athletic officials are expected to continue monitoring the situation and adjust their policy accordingly.

Just finding an opponent qualifies as a victory for the fifth-ranked Bruins (8-1 overall, 1-0 Pac-12), who have not played since beating Marquette on Dec. 11. UCLA coach Mick Cronin said he spent hours on the phone trying to find anyone willing to face his team, joking that he would have played the Lakers.

Originally, the Bruins were scheduled to play Stanford on Thursday before that game was postponed because of COVID-19 issues within the Cardinals’ program. A makeup game against Arizona State added to the schedule for Wednesday was postponed earlier this week because of virus problems with the Sun Devils.

UCLA had already canceled games against Alabama State, North Carolina and Cal Poly because of its own virus outbreak and needs to reschedule postponed games against Arizona State, Arizona, Washington and Stanford.

The Bruins’ game against Long Beach State will represent both a rematch and a rarity. UCLA defeated the Beach, 100-79, on Nov. 15 at Pauley Pavilion after pulling away early in the second half. The Bruins have not played a nonconference opponent twice in the same regular season since 1982-83, when they faced Notre Dame in December and January as part of an arrangement in which the schools played home and away games each season.

Long Beach State (3-7) is coming off its own lengthy layoff, having last played Dec. 12 against USC. As a tuneup for the Bruins, the Beach is playing Westcliff, an NAIA opponent, Wednesday at the Pyramid in Long Beach.

UCLA VS. LONG BEACH STATE

When: Thursday, 4:30 p.m.

Where: Pauley Pavilion.

On the air: TV: Pac-12 Networks; Radio: 1150.

Update: No one is coming off a longer layoff than UCLA redshirt senior forward Cody Riley, who is expected to make his return against the Beach after not having played since spraining the medial collateral ligament in his left knee during the team’s season opener Nov. 9. “He’s doing better now that he’s been back in the gym for so many days,” Cronin said.

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