Was there really a need for the other six teams to make the trip?
When it was announced that the West Coast Conference would host its tournament in Las Vegas, college hoops junkies in the Valley drooled over the prospect of watching Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga play on a neutral floor.
Tonight, it finally happens.
Each team received a bye into the semifinals and each took care of business yesterday to set up tonight’s heavily-anticipated showdown.
The matchup has received even more attention nationally as the Gaels try to work star point guard Patty Mills back into the lineup. Before he was injured, Saint Mary’s was 18-1 and leading at Gonzaga.
After he was hurt late in the first half of that contest, the Gaels lost the lead and the game and then went on to lose three of their next four contests before righting the ship down the stretch.
Now, with its Australian star back, Saint Mary’s hopes to prove to the NCAA selection committee that it belongs in the tournament even if it falls short of earning the automatic bid tonight.
Much of that responsibility will fall on Mills.
If he plays well, the committee may feel that Saint Mary’s is once again the team it was early in the season. That would likely be enough to secure the Gaels a bid.
It won’t be known right away. Like last night, Mills will come off the bench tonight.
Ex-Coaches Populate the Building
The coaches on the benches for tonight’s game have done a remarkable job of building quality programs in the West Coast Conference.
But they aren’t the only successful coaches in the arena.
Just in front of the Review-Journal’s post on media row sits Steve Lavin. While at UCLA, Lavin led his team to five straight Sweet 16 appearances and six straight NCAA tournaments.
Two spots to the right is P.J. Carlesimo. He led his Seton Hall Pirates to the national championship game, but is of course is now more well-known for being the mixed martial arts training dummy for Latrell Sprewell.
UNLV legend Jerry Tarkanian was here last night. It’s not known whether he will be here for the championship game, but he has not been spotted just yet.
New Name for the Tournament
Pretty soon, they might start calling this the Gonzaga Invitational.
Tonight, the Bulldogs play in their 12th consecutive West Coast Conference tournament championship game.
Gonzaga has come away victorious in eight of the previous 11 title tilts.
UNLV fans love having the Mountain West Conference tournament on the Rebels’ home floor, but the environment here at the Orleans Arena exemplifies why conference tournaments are great at neutral sites.
Both teams are well-represented in the stands.
Of course, there is no such thing as a truly neutral court. The Gonzaga fans are clearly louder.