LAS VEGAS – Conference tournaments, bubble watches, Selection Sunday, brackets, March Madness.
“It’s the best time of the year,” Gonzaga senior guard Jeremy Pargo said.
It just wasn’t too kind to the Bulldogs a year ago. Gonzaga lost to WCC tournament host San Diego in the championship game, and then exited the NCAA tournament with a first-round loss to Davidson.
Gonzaga’s goal entering this year’s WCC tournament, which begins a four-day run today at the Orleans Arena, is to build on the momentum generated from winning seven straight and 16 of 17. The 14th-ranked Bulldogs (24-5) have a bye into Sunday’s semifinals and won’t know their opponent until Saturday night.
The top-seeded Bulldogs appear to be a lock to make the NCAA tournament for the 11th straight year. Winning the conference tournament would boost their chances of staying in the West for the opening round of the NCAA tournament.
“We need to amp it up and see if we can get another 10, 15 percent out of every guy so we’re truly playing our best,” GU head coach Mark Few said. “These will be tough, grinder-type games. People will be playing with a sense of desperation that we need to make sure we match.”
The WCC sent a record three teams to the NCAA tournament last year. Second-seeded Saint Mary’s (24-5) welcomes Patty Mills back from a broken right hand, but the Gaels are generally considered a bubble team on the outside looking in. They’ve enhanced their NCAA resume with a five-game winning streak, including a victory over Utah State two weeks ago.
“Saint Mary’s has always played us tough,” Gonzaga junior guard Matt Bouldin said. “Santa Clara gave us fits (last week) and Portland – those three probably give us the biggest fits.”
This is the 23rd WCC tournament but the first staged on a neutral court.
The WCC women’s tournament also begins today at the Orleans Arena with No. 5 Saint Mary’s facing No. 8 Santa Clara and No. 6 San Diego meeting No. 7 San Francisco. Top-seeded Gonzaga (24-6) has a bye into Sunday’s semifinals. The Bulldogs’ possible opponents are Saint Mary’s, Santa Clara or No. 4 Loyola Marymount.
•Bouldin and Gonzaga senior forward Josh Heytvelt were named to the National Association of Basketball Coaches All-District 9 first team.
GU sophomore forward Austin Daye made the second team.