Tourneys all around - and no scandals


It was not important how many points Shabazz Muhammad scored, at least to those in the sports book, which felt like an overcrowded elevator Thursday. The point spread was the priority, and, after push came to shove, we’ll call it a push.

UCLA trailed Arizona State by eight points with 7½ minutes remaining. The Sun Devils held a 15-point lead early in the second half, but it slowly was slipping away.

Amazingly, when Arizona State basketball is a topic, most people still associate it with the point-shaving scandal. But that was in 1994, and almost two decades later, the Pac-12 Conference is staging its tournament within walking distance of a sports book. The scandal is history. This is real progress.

Muhammad sank four shots in a three-minute span, leading the Bruins back to an 80-75 win. Four technicals were assessed at the end, and UCLA’s David Wear made two free throws with one second remaining, capping a crazy finish at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

In the book, where UCLA opened as a 4-point favorite and the line closed at 5, there were groans, screams and expressions of disbelief. Some won, some lost, others pushed.

“We’re booking everything,” MGM Resorts sports book director Jay Rood said. “The unique attraction is you can get out of bed, walk to the sports book and then go to the arena.”

The scene was similar for the next game. Arizona, a 5-point favorite, busted open a tight game in the final minute to beat Colorado, 79-69. A questionable call went against the Buffaloes late, but there were no cries of a fix. Officials screw up calls all the time.

Las Vegas hosts four conference tournaments, which is great for us and certainly a source of grief for a few pinheads at NCAA headquarters in Indianapolis. But betting makes basketball more popular, and relocating its tournament from Los Angeles to Las Vegas will be more profitable for the Pac-12.

Less than a week after No. 1 Gonzaga won the West Coast Conference tournament at Orleans Arena, the Western Athletic Conference moved in there. The Mountain West is at the Thomas & Mack Center, a quick cab ride from the MGM. It’s all easily accessible for fans and the national media members who have flocked to the Strip this week.

And don’t forget NBA scouts — 44 of them were issued credentials by the Mountain West, and Miami Heat president Pat Riley sat courtside at the MGM to watch Oregon (-3½) beat Washington 80-77 in overtime late Thursday.

The fact you can wager on the games is only a sidebar to the action on the courts. But it’s a necessity, because the casinos never should give in to a conference’s request to take games down for a week in March. When in Vegas, play by Vegas’ rules, and that means anything goes.

If New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie can overcome the NFL and NCAA and win a battle to legalize sports betting, we might even see an NCAA Tournament regional in Las Vegas someday. But progress is slow when politicians are involved.

“That would be significant,” Rood said. “Who knows? The landscape is set up to change quite a bit over the next few years.”

One of the next steps here is for conferences to issue tournament credentials to all deserving media representatives, including those in the sports gaming profession. To not do so is hypocritical.

Ken Thomson, a radio host and handicapper, had his credential request in mid-February denied by the Pac-12.

“When I called the league office, they said because my website had a gaming ad and scores and odds on it, that was the reason I was denied credentials,” said Thomson (SportsXRadio.com). “I said I have had over 50 guests from the Pac-12 on my show over the past 20 years and have never talked odds with any collegiate guests. I would never mix the two.

“I was at the MGM today and saw half of Tucson bet on the Wildcats before the game. If not for the Vegas ambiance, they never would have moved the tournament here. It is what it is, sports gaming is a hobby for a lot of people.”

Doug Gottlieb, who is calling Mountain West games for CBS Sports Network, has referenced point spreads on Twitter this week. His credential won’t be denied in the future, and nothing he posted was wrong.

On Wednesday night, San Diego State, a 4-point favorite, covered in a 73-67 victory over Boise State. The Broncos’ Derrick Marks missed an open 3-pointer at the buzzer.

New Mexico is a 2-point favorite over the Aztecs and UNLV is laying 4½ points to Colorado State in tonight’s semifinals at the Thomas & Mack, where several fans will be holding betting tickets. At the MGM, fans will wager on the Arizona-UCLA game.

At the WAC tournament Thursday, Denver (-16) and Louisiana Tech (-12½) fell as big favorites.

“We’re getting a lot more action. The games are significant, and it’s only going to get better,” Rood said. “Even with the WAC, we’re booking good money.”

From this seat, nothing appears scandalous. And, for the record, Muhammad finished with 16 points.

Contact sports betting columnist Matt Youmans 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, 98.9 FM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.