Feast on conference tourney buffet

It was not one of Anthony Ireland’s better games, and it was nearly the final game of the senior point guard’s college career. Loyola Marymount was down double digits and close to getting counted out.

Max Good, the Lions’ coach, was sweating it out.

It’s tough to top the drama of college basketball in March, and Las Vegas offers the best seats in the house, whether it’s at a sports book or any of three arenas hosting four conference tournaments.

“I love ’em. I’m ready to go,” said Bob Scucci, Boyd Gaming sports book director at The Orleans. “The games start early in the morning and the action goes all day.”

The action was going late into Thursday night at Orleans Arena, where the first two games of the West Coast Conference tournament drew a small crowd and a minuscule media gathering.

I bet Loyola Marymount plus-3½ against Portland and wanted to sit courtside to see if the ticket would get cashed or balled up and shot into the trash. But the wager had to be placed elsewhere because The Orleans does not post WCC lines this week, an order sent from the league office and accepted.

“That’s one of the things they requested is that we don’t put up any numbers for those teams in the conference. So we don’t book those games,” Scucci said. “It’s such a nice event for us to have that it’s not a big trade-off. We prefer to just host the event and make the concession.”

It’s a tricky issue. As a proponent of sports betting, I don’t like concessions — when in Vegas, play by Vegas’ rules — but am willing to let this one go.

The Orleans will post lines on next week’s Western Athletic Conference tournament. The WAC “never made that request” of a concession, Scucci said.

MGM Resorts books the Pac-12 tournament, held at the Grand Garden Arena, and obviously every casino will book the Mountain West tournament games at the Thomas &Mack Center.

Surely, it irritates a few pinheads at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis to know fans are attending games within walking distance of sports books, but the truth is betting makes college basketball more popular, and we’re seeing signs of progress in the relationship.

If The Orleans makes one minor exception for the WCC, so be it. We can bet the Brigham Young or Gonzaga games at another book.

“People walk through the casino on their way to the game and they make a bet,” Scucci said. “So we lose that end of it.”

When people ask why the lines are not up, Scucci said, “We give them the explanation, and they seem to understand.”

Trailing 48-35 with 12 minutes remaining, Loyola Marymount was looking at a long offseason, and I was close to writing off a lost wager. Desperation seems to bring out the shady side in housewives, but it works wonders for teams facing elimination.

The Lions started to rally. The 5-foot-10-inch Ireland, who must have been measured in high heels, banked in a floater, assisted on a fast-break layup and made a free throw with five seconds to go in a 67-64 comeback victory. Ireland finished with 14 points on 4-for-16 shooting. He has 2,150 points in a career that will extend at least one more game.

The coach was sweating it out along with the bettors. When it was over, a 60-year-old lady sitting in the second row walked over to tell me she also had taken the points with Loyola Marymount.

“Seventy-five percent of the experts picked Portland,” she said, after doing some serious research and betting on her Station Casinos phone account. “Go the other way. It’s almost a guarantee.”

In the second game, her money was on Santa Clara as a 2-point underdog to Pacific. The Broncos, behind talented guards Jared Brownridge, Brandon Clark and Evan Roquemore, cashed in an 81-64 victory in a game that ended at 10:38 p.m.

If form holds in the WCC bracket, BYU and top-seeded Gonzaga would meet Tuesday in the championship, and the Cougars could be desperate with an automatic NCAA Tournament bid on the line.

“I think Gonzaga is in, and BYU is probably in, too. But BYU might have to win the conference tournament,” said The Gold Sheet handicapper Bruce Marshall, who does weekly Bracketology projections at Goldsheet.com.

The top seed in the Mountain West tournament will be determined Saturday, when San Diego State hosts New Mexico in a winner-take-all showdown. I’ll probably take the points, at 3½ or more, with the Lobos.

“It seems like the sharp guys like the conference tournaments even more than the Big Dance,” Scucci said.

In March, with teams on neutral courts (UNLV aside), crazy things happen. Expect upsets and don’t count out desperate underdogs.

In Las Vegas, there’s a lot to like. Place a bet and grab a good seat.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at myoumans@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.

Lions, Broncos win WCC tournament openers

Nick Stover converted an acrobatic layup in transition with 32 seconds remaining to break a tie and put Loyola Marymount ahead for good in a 67-64 West Coast Conference tournament opening-round win over Portland at Orleans Arena on Thursday night.

Stover, who finished with 14 points, added a pair of free throws in the closing seconds to help secure the upset win for the 10th-seeded Lions, who finished last in the league.

Evan Payne scored 19 points and Anthony Ireland added 14 points and six assists for Loyola Marymount (13-18), which went on a 21-4 run over seven minutes in the second half after allowing a 1-point halftime lead turn into a 48-35 deficit.

Thomas Van Der Mars had 18 points for the seventh-seeded Pilots (15-16).

Loyola Marymount will play second-seeded Brigham Young (21-10) in a quarterfinal at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Ninth-seeded Santa Clara (14-18) also advanced to the quarterfinals with a 81-64 win over eighth-seeded Pacific (15-15) in the nightcap.

The Broncos will play top seeded Gonzaga (25-6) at 6 p.m. on Saturday.

Santa Clara got 20 points from freshman Jared Brownridge in the victory and Foothill High School grad Evan Roquemore added 17 points.