West Coast Conference Tournament: A brief history

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

A quick look at the rich history of the west coast's finest mid-major conference tournament.

BYU is, obviously, a newcomer to the West Coast Conference. Having shared little-to-no past with the WCC prior to joining the conference in 2011, the history of the event known as the conference tournament may be lost on a lot of us Cougar fans.

If you do happen to remember much of it, it's always fun to reminisce.

The West Coast Conference began staging a conference tournament in 1987. At War Memorial Gym in San Francisco, the Santa Clara Broncos claimed the first tournament title with a 77-65 win over Pepperdine.

From 1987 forward, each year's tournament was hosted at the home sites of different WCC schools on a rotating basis -- until 2009, when the tournament was moved to the neutral site of the Orleans Arena, in the Orleans Hotel in Las Vegas.

Gonzaga has claimed victory in 11 of the 25 conference tournaments, including 8 of 9 between 1999-2007. No other school has won more than three tournaments (Saint Mary's and Pepperdine have three). BYU, in its second year as a WCC member, is the only school without a tournament title.

One of the most, if not the most, tragic events in college basketball history occurred during the WCC tournament. The Lions of Loyola Marymount had taken college basketball by storm after gaining the transfers of USC players Bo Kimble and Hank Gathers.

Gathers garnered the WCC tournament MVP crown during his sophomore and junior seasons. In his junior year, he became the second player in NCAA history to lead the country in both points and rebounds per game (32.7 ppg and 13.7 rpg).

In his senior season, the 6'7" Gathers built a resume for Player of the Year candidate and NBA lottery pick, helping LMU to an insane 122.4 points per game -- still the Division I record.

At the culmination of LMU's glory, destiny placed the 1990 WCC tournament at the Lions' home of Gersten Pavilion. But the hometown fans sure jubilation turned to horror. After Gathers threw down a dunk to give LMU an early 12-point lead over Erik Spoelstra and Portland in a semifinal game, Gathers collapsed on the court and stopped breathing, and died before reaching the hospital.

The 1990 tournament was thereafter cancelled, and LMU was awarded the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament by virtue of its regular-season title. Gathers' story remains to this day as one of the most tragic in sports history.

1991 featured the longest championship game of the tournament when top seed Pepperdine defeated Saint Mary's 71-68 in triple overtime.

MVP's of the tournament include Steve Nash and Doug Christie. After garnering the 1993 WCC tournament MVP, Nash led his 15-seeded Santa Clara Broncos to an upset win over 2-seed Arizona in the first round of the NCAA tournament, at the time only the second time a 15-seed had claimed a tournament victory.

Three players have won tournament MVP honors twice: Hank Gathers (Loyola Marymount, 1988-89), Dan Dickau (Gonzaga, 2001-02), and Adam Morrison (Gonzaga, 2005-06).

The last team not named Gonzaga or Saint Mary's to win the tournament was San Diego in 2008. The last time someone other than those three won the tournament was San Francisco's lone tournament title in 1998.

LMU claims the longest drought since last tournament title; the 1989 championship was its last.

This year's tournament marks the last year for the ultra-protected top seeds. The top two seeds have been byed through to the semifinals. In 2014, with the addition of Pacific to the conference, the ten-team tournament will feature first round games between seeds 7-10. All other teams, including the top seeds, will begin play in the second round with eight teams remaining.

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