Conference basketball tournaments are a battle between what’s profitable and what’s fair.
Do you make money at the risk of giving one team an advantage? Or do you provide a level playing field with a neutral court and possibly impact your potential for profit?
It appears the West Coast Conference might have found the best of both worlds by moving its annual basketball party to the Orleans Arena.
A strong presale of 7,000 all-session tickets in a depressed economy had league officials upbeat, while having the tournament played at a neutral site for the first time in 23 years has given the event a sense of fairness among coaches.
When play tipped off Friday, plenty of smiles could be seen. Everyone connected with the WCC appeared glad to be in Las Vegas.
"There’s nothing to be discouraged about," WCC commissioner Jamie Zaninovich said. "I think everyone’s excited about the site and the facility.
"We’re thrilled with the presale, especially given the economy right now. We hoped 5,000 in the building would have been a good start."
Portland coach Eric Reveno, whose third-seeded Pilots face sixth-seeded Pepperdine tonight in the quarterfinals, said having a level playing field means everything.
"It’s huge," Reveno said of playing on a neutral court. "Our kids feel like they have a legitimate chance. When you play the tournament on someone else’s home court, you feel like you’re at a bit of a disadvantage."
Earl Gregory and son Jeff traveled from Newberry Park, Calif., and Spokane, Wash., respectively, to root for Pepperdine. They were thrilled to be at The Orleans.
"This is great to have it here in Vegas," Jeff Gregory said. "It’s as nice an arena as any in the league. Plus, the weather is great. It was snowing when I left Spokane the other day to drive down here."
Said Earl Gregory: "It’s fair for everyone. I don’t think that was the case last year in San Diego."
San Diego coach Bill Grier enjoyed that advantage last year, and the Toreros, who were seeded third, won the WCC tournament by beating Gonzaga, 69-62. But Grier didn’t mind giving up the home court for a trip to Las Vegas.
"Having hosted it last year, you feel good about it," Grier said. "But I think the league has done a really good job with the tournament at The Orleans. It has a big-time atmosphere to it, and it’s a truly neutral environment, and that’s the way it should be."
The WCC still rewarded its top teams by giving regular-season champion Gonzaga and runner-up Saint Mary’s a bye into the semifinals Sunday. Reveno said he had no problem with that.
"They earned that over the course of the season," he said. "That’s an advantage that makes sense."
• San Diego 62, Loyola Marymount 56 — The Toreros (16-15) advanced to the quarterfinals by holding the Lions to 10 points in the first 16:22 of the second half and keeping LMU’s Kevin Young in check.
Young had 16 first-half points but managed four the rest of the way. LMU (3-28) made 13 of 28 free throws.
• Pepperdine 93, San Francisco 85 — Mike Hornbuckle scored nine of his 25 points in a 2:49 stretch in the second half, including a 3-point field goal that put the Waves (9-22) ahead to stay, 73-72, with 5:44 to play.
Dior Lowhorn had 32 points to lead the Dons (11-19).
• Santa Clara 82, Saint Mary’s 55 — The eighth-seeded Broncos (4-26) got the tournament off to a shocking start, limiting the fifth-seeded Gaels (11-19) to 19 second-half points.
Santa Clara had five scorers in double figures, led by Lena Gipson’s 19 points. Saint Mary’s Louella Tomlinson led all scorers with 21 points.
• San Diego 73, San Francisco 64 — The Toreros (17-12) overcame a 12-point second-half deficit and advanced to today’s quarterfinals against Pepperdine.
Kiva Herman had 20 points and Amber Sprague 14 points and 14 rebounds to lead San Diego. Vania Singleterry had 18 points for USF (7-22).
Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@ reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913.Slideshow
WEST COAST CONFERENCE TOURNAMENT
At the Orleans Arena
No. 5 San Diego 62, No. 8 Loyola Marymount 56
No. 6 Pepperdine 93, No. 7 San Francisco 85
No. 5 San Diego vs. No. 4 Santa Clara, 6 p.m.
No. 6 Pepperdine vs. No. 3 Portland, 8:30 p.m.
No. 8 Santa Clara 82, No. 5 Saint Mary’s 55
No. 6 San Diego 73, No. 7 San Francisco 64
No. 8 Santa Clara vs. No. 4 Loyola Marymount, noon
No. 6 San Diego vs. No. 3 Pepperdine, 2:30 p.m.
– LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL
SAINT MARY’S TOP SCORER CLEARED TO RETURN
MORAGA, Calif. — Patty Mills will return to Saint Mary’s lineup for the West Coast Conference Tournament at the Orleans Arena on Sunday, hoping to lead the Gaels’ late push for another NCAA Tournament berth.
Mills, a sophomore point guard who played for the Australian Olympic team, was the leading scorer for the Gaels when he broke two bones in his right hand during a loss at Gonzaga on Jan. 29. He underwent surgery and missed the rest of the regular season.
Saint Mary’s (24-5), which was in the Top 25 and 18-1 with a 15-game winning streak when Mills went down, lost three of its next four games before finishing with five straight victories to gain the No. 2 seed in the West Coast tournament, which began Friday.
Mills, who led the Gaels with 18.1 points, 3.9 assists and 2.4 steals per game, was cleared to start shooting drills Monday.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS