Provo • Two days before the West Coast Conference men’s basketball tournament begins in Las Vegas, a report surfaced Wednesday that league kingpin Gonzaga has discussed the possibility of leaving the WCC for the Mountain West Conference as early as next season.
The San Diego Union-Tribune reported that Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson said he has had “exploratory” conversations with six schools since August about joining his conference.
Gonzaga is one of those schools, but BYU is not, Thompson told the newspaper.
However, the report notes that BYU “would consider a return to the Mountain West at least in basketball if Gonzaga joins,” according to “several sources” that it did not divulge.
BYU basketball coach Dave Rose had finished his weekly news conference before the Union-Tribune story was posted online and was unavailable for comment. However, in an interview later Wednesday with radio station ESPN 960 AM, the coach said he isn’t surprised that Gonzaga has been listening to other suitors.
The report said that Gonzaga coach Mark Few is “involved” in the discussions with the Mountain West “and intrigued by the possibility, particularly if BYU follows.”
Gonzaga athletic director Mike Roth confirmed discussions with the Mountain West to the Spokesman-Review, saying, “We want to make sure we’re monitoring the landscape.”
When BYU went independent in football in 2011, it originally wanted to keep its other sports in the Mountain West, but the conference said it couldn’t. That’s when basketball and most of BYU’s other sports joined the WCC.
Asked in January if BYU would ever “bail on [football] independence” and join another league, athletic director Tom Holmoe said “you could ask that question a thousand times and the answer is going to be, when that day comes, you are going to know it. … But right now it is the same answer that I have always said: We are not looking right now to get into another [non-Power 5] league.”
Different head coach, same good team
Rose and stars Elijah Bryant and Yoeli Childs said Wednesday that they don’t expect any less of a battle from San Diego on Saturday in the WCC quarterfinal after the Toreros put head coach Lamont Smith on paid administration leave for the remainder of the season.
Assistant coach Sam School will be USD’s interim head coach, the school announced Monday. Smith was arrested at the Oakland Airport Sunday on suspicion of domestic abuse at a San Francisco hotel after USD defeated San Francisco 64-61 Saturday night.
“I just know how excited kids are to play at this time of year. I believe that that will just remain to be seen, as far as how they respond,” Rose said, noting that Pepperdine’s players performed well against BYU two weeks ago after learning their coach, Marty Wilson, will not return next year. “Hopefully our guys are dialed in on the challenge of trying to beat this team and aren’t really worried about the other things that are going on.”
Bryant said San Diego’s players are experienced and will play really hard.
“As you know, last time they beat us at their place, so we are expecting a great battle from those guys and I look forward to playing them,” he said.
Childs said the fact that it is a conference tournament game will galvanize the Toreros.
“I mean, we don’t understand exactly what is going on over there and exactly how the players feel, but I know for a fact that they are going to want to win the game,” he said.
WCC Men’s Basketball Tournament<br>At Orleans Arena, Las Vegas<br>Friday’s First-Round Games<br>No. 8 Loyola Marymount vs. No. 9 Portland, 7 p.m., AT&T Rocky Mountain, BYUtv<br>No. 7 Santa Clara vs. No. 10 Pepperdine, 9 p.m., AT&T Rocky Mountain, BYUtv<br>Saturday’s Quarterfinal Games<br>No. 3 BYU vs. No. 6 San Diego, 2 p.m., AT&T Rocky Mountain, BYUtv<br>No. 4 San Francisco vs. No. 5 Pacific, 4 p.m., AT&T Rocky Mountain, BYUtv<br>No. 1 Gonzaga vs. Loyola Marymount-Portland winner, 8 p.m., ESPN2<br>No. 2 Saint Mary’s vs. Santa Clara-Pepperdine winner, 10 p.m., ESPN2<br>Note: All times are MST