It could wind up being the same old story, but if the regular season is any indication, the West Coast Conference men’s basketball tournament may be something other than Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga playing in Tuesday’s championship game at Orleans Arena.
The Gaels swept the Bulldogs for the first time in 21 years to gain the top seed. But Saint Mary’s lost twice to Pepperdine, which was swept by Gonzaga, which split with Brigham Young, which split with Saint Mary’s.
You get the picture.
“I think it’s wide open,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “With the quarterfinals Saturday being an eight-team tournament, it’s become a pressure-filled game. You can’t afford a slip-up. You do what you have to do to survive and advance.”
Gonzaga coach Mark Few said Saturday’s 71-68 win over BYU at the Marriott Center was nice. But it doesn’t mean much now.
The Bulldogs (23-7) will open play Saturday against Portland as the No. 2 seed, which means they wouldn’t see Saint Mary’s until Tuesday’s championship game. The Gaels will play the winner of today’s opening-round game between No. 8 Loyola Marymount and No. 9 San Diego.
“From now on, it’s single elimination,” Few said. “You lose, you’re out. So you can’t afford an off-night at this point.
“For us, we’ve got a group that has battled all year. We’ve found ways to hang in there, and I’m hoping we can carry some momentum from the BYU game into the tournament.”
The third-seeded Cougars (22-9) have been inconsistent at times. And that scares coach Dave Rose.
“We haven’t been able to put a string of eight or nine games together,” Rose said. “We’ve got a young bench. But I’m hoping the format will help us. We’re pretty much playing eight guys.”
Pepperdine could be the wild card. The Waves (17-12) had a strong first half of the conference season, but they’ve dropped two of their past three, so it may come down to whether Stacy Davis and Lamond Murray, Pepperdine’s two best players, are on their game.
“They’re streaky,” Bennett said of Pepperdine. “They can get on a run and beat anyone.”
After Saturday’s four quarterfinal games, the WCC takes Sunday off before resuming Monday with the semifinals. The day off should make for some competitive games Monday, as the combined rest and time to prepare should yield a higher quality brand of basketball.
“You would think so,” Bennett said. “But the key is getting to Monday. That’s why Saturday’s going to be very competitive.”
The WCC is also being projected as a one-bid conference by the majority of bracketologists. If they’re right, that adds even more pressure to win the tournament.
“Nobody’s talking about us as an at-large,” Rose said. “So we’re going to have to make it to Tuesday to give ourselves any chance. But even though we lost a tough one the other night to Gonzaga, our guys are in a good mindset. They’re excited about coming to Vegas and making a run.”
Bennett said the Gaels (24-4) have been consistent all season. That, more than anything else, may give Saint Mary’s the ultimate edge.
“I thought we’d be good, but they’ve exceeded my expectations,” Bennett said. “ Their willingness to be coached and work together has made it fun.”
Few said of Saint Mary’s: “They don’t beat themselves. That’s why they’re tough.”
Contact reporter Steve Carp at email@example.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him 0n Twitter: @stevecarprj.
If You Are Going
■ WHAT: WCC tournament
■ WHO: No. 8 Loyola Marymount vs. No. 9 San Diego
■ WHEN: 6 p.m. Friday
■ WHERE: Orleans Arena
■ TV: TheWtv (online stream)
■ TICKETS: www.orleansarena.com
West Coast Conference basketball tournament schedule
All games at Orleans Arena
Women’s quarterfinals/Men’s first round
Noon: Women’s quarterfinal 3: No. 1 BYU vs. TBD (BYUtv).
2 p.m.: Women’s quarterfinal 4: No. 2 Saint Mary’s vs. TBD (BYUtv).
6 p.m. Men’s game 1: No. 8 Loyola Marymount vs. No. 9 San Diego (BYUtv).
1 p.m.: Men’s quarterfinal 1: No. 3 BYU vs. No. 6 Santa Clara (TWCSN, CSNBA, ROOT NW, BYUtv).
3 p.m.: Men’s quarterfinal 2: No. 4 Pepperdine vs. No. 5 San Francisco (TWCSN, CSNBA, ROOT NW, BYUtv).
7 p.m.: Men’s quarterfinal 3: No. 1 Saint Mary’s vs. TBD (ESPN2).
9 p.m.: Men’s quarterfinal 4: No. 2 Gonzaga vs. No. 7 Portland (ESPN2).
Women’s and men’s semifinals
Noon: Women’s semifinal 1 (BYUtv).
2 p.m.: Women’s semifinal 2 (BYUtv).
6 p.m.: Men’s semifinal 1 (ESPN).
8:30 p.m.: Men’s semifinal 2 (ESPN2).
Women’s and men’s finals
1 p.m.: Women’s final (ESPNU).
6 p.m.: Men’s final (ESPN).