NASHVILLE — The bus carrying Memphis basketball's cheer and pom squad was being emptied approximately 75 minutes before the Tigers were scheduled to tip off against Tennessee.
Memphis' graduate assistants and team managers had just completed the entry process inside Bridgestone Arena. They did not even reach the locker room when the announcement was made that the 11 a.m. game would not be played. The Tigers never left the team hotel, a source familiar with the situation told The Commercial Appeal.
"We simply didn’t have anywhere near a reasonable amount of players to play," one source said Saturday. "We're talking down to, like, four or five."
Memphis executive associate athletics director Adam Walker told The Commercial Appeal two Memphis players tested positive for COVID-19. Due to contact tracing, the rest of the team was ruled out due to protocols. A source said an unspecified player woke up Saturday not feeling well and subsequently tested positive. The player's roommate was tested and was also positive.
According to one source, the two players who tested positive traveled back to Memphis separate from the rest of the team. While it's unclear which players tested positive, The Commercial Appeal was able to confirm that star freshmen Emoni Bates and Jalen Duren and veteran DeAndre Williams were not among them.
Memphis has unvaccinated players on its roster, a source confirmed, though it's not clear how many. Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said before the season "probably 90%" of his players were vaccinated.
It was Memphis' decision to cancel the game Saturday, according to an email from the American Athletic Conference, which leaves such decisions to the affected school for nonconference games.
According to Tennessee coach Rick Barnes, the Volunteers were notified around 9:25 a.m. that the Tigers were dealing with a possible COVID-19 issue while aboard the team bus to Bridgestone Arena.
A Memphis spokesman told The Commercial Appeal the team was watching film inside The Westin Nashville – minutes from boarding the bus – when the positive test results were returned. Athletics director Laird Veatch relayed the news to the team, according to a spokesperson.
Memphis players left by bus around 11 a.m. Most of the team's coaching staff left separately shortly before then, including Hardaway.
A group of Memphis fans and supporters, along with incoming university president Bill Hardgrave, gathered at The Westin Nashville on Friday night. Following the Tigers' shootaround, the team made a brief 10-minute appearance at the event, greeting fans before returning to their respective hotel rooms, according to two people who attended the event.
Barnes told reporters at Bridgestone Arena there was "no way" the Tigers and Vols will reschedule the game this season.
"We have no other openings," he said.
According to a Memphis team spokesperson, it is too soon to know whether the Tigers' home game against Alabama State on Dec. 21 will be played at FedExForum. The Tigers are scheduled to play the Hornets at 7 p.m.. Their next game is set for 7 p.m. Dec. 29 at Tulane, which has been on pause since Dec. 11 with its own COVID issues.
Reach sports writer Jason Munz at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @munzly.
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: What happened that led to Memphis-Tennessee basketball cancellation