Provo • Almost everything has been different for the BYU men’s basketball team this year, from its Jimmer-less lineup to its first season of competition in the West Coast Conference.
Those conference-related changes obviously extend to the conference tournament, which will be contested this week (and next, oddly) in a familiar city — Las Vegas — but at a venue other than the Thomas & Mack Center, which houses the Mountain West Conference event.
The WCC tournament begins Wednesday at Orleans Arena, which seats 7,471 for basketball, a far cry from the 18,766 that the home of the UNLV Rebels seats. The format is also quite a bit different.
For instance, regular-season champion St. Mary’s and No. 2 seed Gonzaga have drawn byes all the way into the semifinals, which are Saturday. Third-seeded BYU and fourth-seeded Loyola Marymount won’t play until Friday’s quarterfinals; the Cougars will meet the winner of Thursday’s contest pitting Pepperdine and San Diego, while the Lions will play the winner of Thursday’s second-round matchup: San Francisco, Portland or Santa Clara.As the eighth and ninth seeds, Portland and Santa Clara open the tournament Wednesday.
With the addition of BYU and its no-play-on-Sunday policy, the tournament goes dark Sunday and the men’s and women’s championship games will be played Monday, March 5.
“It looks like it is going to be a Friday, Saturday, Monday for us, as far as the bracket,” BYU coach Dave Rose said after the Cougars beat Portland Saturday to earn the No. 3 seed. “Never done that before, either. So hopefully we can win the Friday game, and then you get your guys together and prepare, and try to win the Saturday game. Then we will take a day off and see if we can win the Monday game, if we can get to that point. But all the preparation right now goes into one game, and that is whoever our opponent is on Friday.”
The Cougars (24-7) won’t know that until late Thursday night. BYU beat the Toreros 88-52 in Provo on Dec. 31 and 82-63 in San Diego on Jan. 16. The Cougars beat Pepperdine 77-64 in Malibu on Jan. 21 and 86-48 in Provo on Feb. 11. But Rose says both clubs have improved the last few weeks, especially San Diego, which gave Gonzaga all it wanted Saturday.
“They are both tough teams,” he said. “In the last two weeks, they’ve been really successful, won some games. ... We will prepare for both of those teams, obviously, and then Thursday night someone will win and we will throw that scouting report in and go.”
The Cougars’ most immediate concern, however, is the status of leading scorer and shot blocker Noah Hartsock, who didn’t play against Portland due to left knee, ankle and calf injuries.
“I think it is going to take time, little by little [to recover],” Hartsock said. “Hopefully I can get in a full practice before we play again. That’s what I want. That’s my goal, and we will see how it feels, and what I can do with it.”
Hartsock said not having to play on UNLV’s home court is a “bonus for us.” He was part of a BYU team that won a pair of games (Nevada and Nebraska) at Orleans Arena during the 2009-10 season, his sophomore year.
“It was a real fun place to play. So I am excited,” Hartsock said. “It’s a new conference and a new opportunity.”
West Coast Conference basketball tournament schedule
At Orleans Arena, Las Vegas
All times MST
Wednesday’s opening-round game • No. 8 Portland vs. No. 9 Santa Clara, 7 p.m.
Thursday’s second-round games • No. 5 San Francisco vs. No. 8/9 winner, 7 p.m.; No. 6 San Diego vs. No. 7 Pepperdine, 9 p.m.
Friday’s quarterfinals • No. 4 Loyola vs. No. 5/8/9 winner, 7 p.m.; No. 3 BYU vs. No. 6/7 winner, 9 p.m.
Saturday’s semifinals • No. 1 St. Mary’s vs, No. 5/8/9/4 winner, 7 p.m.; No. 2 Gonzaga vs. No. 6/7/3 winner, 9 p.m.
March 5 championship game • 7 p.m., ESPN
Wednesday’s opening-round game • No. 8 San Francisco vs. No. 9 Loyola Marymount, 4 p.m.
Thursday’s second-round games • No. 5 Pepperdine vs. No. 8/No. 9 winner, 1 p.m.; No. 6 Santa Clara vs. No. 7 Portland, 3 p.m.
Friday’s quarterfinals • No. 4 Saint Mary’s vs. No. 5/8/9 winner, 1 p.m.; No. 3 San Diego vs. No. 6/7 winner, 3 p.m.
Saturday’s semifinals • No. 1 Gonzaga vs. No. 4/5/8/9 winner, 1 p.m.; No. 2 BYU vs. No. 3/6/7 winner, 3 p.m.
March 5 championship game • 1 p.m., ESPNU