As much as I hated playing the MWC tournament on UNLV's home floor every season, I'm beginning to wonder if maybe it's just Las Vegas in general? There's something about post season basketball in Sin City that just doesn't bode well for the Cougs. Personally, I think maybe we should try our luck in Kansas City? But that's just me...
Here's a little on my trip to Las Vegas for the West Coast Conference Tournament.
All jokes aside, The Orleans Arena is actually a great venue to watch basketball. It's just a few blocks off The Strip, has free parking, and is very clean. It's large enough to have a true arena feel, yet small enough that every seat seems close to the action. It also was quite nice that all seats are padded and have a little extra leg room, unlike a majority of the venues I've visited this season. I curse the yellow chairs in the MC at least 3 times per game when I bang my knees into the seats in front of me. Those of you over 6-feet tall know what I'm talking about.
In order to save up some vacation time for future games, I opted to work a full day Friday and catch a late afternoon flight south. Everything worked fairly smoothly until we got delayed 40 minutes on the tarmac in SLC. Thanks to that, I got to Vegas a little late and missed the first 10 minutes of the LMU/USF game. Aside from the title game, that battle was one of the best of the tournament. The only thing it was lacking was fans. It felt like there were only 3,000 people there (8,000 capacity), and 70% of those were BYU fans. It was kind of sad listening to the 250 USF fans chanting back and forth with the 150 LMU fans. Considering it's a short flight for either, I expected a better turnout. I guess they're both so used to just bowing down to GU and SMC that they don't find it worth making the trip? On that note, I did get a warm-fuzzy feeling at dinner one night when I saw a cute elderly couple in their 80's, all decked out in Santa Clara gear, hanging out at The Orleans. Their team may have ended the year on an 18-game skid, but by golly they were gonna support their Broncos! Best part about it...that was on Saturday; SCU got bounced on Thursday. That's probably gonna be me one day.
QUARTERS: SAN DIEGO
BYU versus San Diego was exactly how I thought it would be, yet totally different. I knew USD was coming on strong, and that we weren't at exactly 100%, however I never had a doubt going in that we'd win. Even though I expected USD to play tough, I didn't expect them to play us THAT tough, they just wouldn't go away. Every time we'd start to pull away, USD would hit a big bucket or two and come right back. It made for an entertaining night of basketball, but not a very relaxing one! Player's parents all had the same sentiment afterwards; an ugly W is still a W.
The only down side to The Orleans is how fast the ushers force everyone to leave. Usually all family and friends hang around for awhile till players come out, but not in Vegas. We were all escorted out long before the players were released from the media. They had the arena and concourses completely cleaned out within 15 minutes of the game ending. Obviously they weren't being paid by the hour. You don't gotta go home, but ya can't stay here!
We left the game and headed for our hotel (Mandalay Bay). It's been awhile since I've stayed on The Strip and apparently in that time I managed to forget what a complete mess parking is. If you ever need to design a maze, call a Las Vegas parking garage architect...yeesh. To make matters worse, it wasn't until about 12:30 am when we finally got settled in the room, that we realized we were starving. We'll just say that finding decent food in Vegas at 1:00 isn't as easy as it used to be. Apparently the days of $2.99 breakfast and 24 hour restaurants has faded. Upscale dining and foodies have taken over. Usually that's fine, but at almost 2 AM, I don't want $40 sushi. I want a short stack, some bacon and a Dr. Pepper -- is that too much to ask?
Most important item of the day was taken care of from via iPad before even getting up: Book a cheap tee-time online. It took a little searching but I found a 70% discounted rate at Angel Park and another at Revere. Sweet! A few phone calls later, all hopes were dashed as a certain friend bailed. Punk. Apparently family time is more important than my selfish golf fix, can you believe that? Me either. So I resorted to a day of shopping, kinda. My sticks were hauled clear to Vegas, so even if just for range balls, they were being used. I dropped my mom off at Town Center and headed across the street to hit balls at the Callaway Center. Not the perfect scenario, but it beat trying to entertain myself at Sephora and MAC.
Later in the day I did manage to break my no-shopping promise I'd made after my Nike intervention in Portland. However I'm not sure it really counts as being broken since most of my purchases were made at the Nike outlet. I really don't think it's possible to go in there and not spend money. I dare any of you to try it. The shopping ended at Oakley, where my lost/stolen half jackets were officially replaced. I didn't realize how dependent I'd become on them until I went two weeks without ‘em. Karma better beat the crap outta the Avis employee who got a nice 5-finger discount on mine in SFO. May you be stuck vacuuming rental cars for the rest of your life.
The games Saturday night were definitely memorable, even if not for all the right reasons. SMC/USF was just what you'd expect of a semi-final. USF surprisingly led most of the night, but SMC was too much down the stretch. It was a hard fought game, but let's be honest, it was just an appetizer for the game most people were there to see.
The atmosphere on Saturday was a much more electric than Friday because it was sold out. It blew me away how many Gonzaga fans showed up. BYU has earned a great reputation for traveling well, but when it comes to the WCC in Vegas, nobody beats Gonzaga fans. In speaking with many of them, they don't ever go back to games in Spokane, but they all meet up with buddies every year in Vegas, it's tradition. They come, they play, they party and they scream. I never thought I'd see the day our fans got shown up on a neutral court in Vegas, but we did.
As a side note, prior to the BYU-GU tip, I was "randomly" selected to participate in an on-court Zappos promotion during the first half; and also "randomly" selected to receive upgraded courtside tickets next to BYU's bench. I love having little elves all over the place. I was given my choice of stunts to perform and chose to do "blindman's bluff" during a media timeout. Seemed like a great idea initially, but only one word can describe being blindfolded at center court and then booed/cheered by 8,000 people as you blindly try to find a stack of shoe boxes on the floor: Awkward. Oh well, it was an easy $50.
The game itself was quite frustrating. It didn't matter what we tried or how hard we hustled, nothing worked. We dug ourselves a HUGE hole in the first 10 minutes and tried to play catch up after that. All things considered, we actually did a decent job staying in the game, but couldn't ever mount a sustainable run. Kevin Pangos had one of those nights and the kid had an answer for anything we did. I've gotta hand it to him, he's a gamer. (Apparently he used it all up against BYU though, cuz he flat sucked vs. SMC in the title game.)
Losing to Gonzaga wasn't that hard to swallow, because let's be honest, GU was "supposed" to win. However getting blown out by GU is a different story. I realize we've had many chances to solidify our resume, but getting ran out of the gym in your last game before Selection Sunday can't be a good thing. Personally, I think we'll get in as a 12 seed with a play-in game, but I still hate the anxious days leading up to it. Hopefully everyone paid 12% tithing last week and will be fasting again this Sunday...we may need it.
I've rambled on a bit much for this piece, so I'll cut out the details of getting home on Sunday (via St. George). I'll be back again in a little less than two weeks...hopefully from the NCAA's and pretty-please-with-a-cherry-on-top it's not in Albuquerque. If the sky comes falling down and we end up in the Not Invited Tournament, well I guess you'll be hearing from me at the Final Four in MSG. Until then...pray for bubbles.