LAS VEGAS — Mountain West Conference commissioner Craig Thompson acknowledged "it's a new day" for the 12-year-old league.

This year's basketball tournament is the last for charter members Utah and BYU. The Utes are moving to the Pac-12 and the Cougars are headed to the West Coast Conference.

Their impending departures, however, aren't putting a damper on this week's gathering at the Thomas & Mack Center. Attendance records are already being set.

"There's a lot of energy in the building, and we'll finish it strongly," Thompson said. "It's fun to see everybody."

At the same time, though, he notes that college sports is much more than that.

"It's a business," Thompson said. "It truly is a business, and I understand that, fully get that and comprehend it."

As such, the only commissioner the MWC has ever had realizes there are a variety of reasons and circumstance for some schools to switch conferences.

In Utah's case, Thompson noted that the benefits extend beyond sports.

"Everybody wants to talk about the athletic teams but now they're recruiting graduate students and research people against Cal and Stanford," he said.

Thompson noted that Utah departs the MWC on good terms. As for the future, he's confident the conference will move forward.

"We're just going to reinvent a little bit, reconfigure and throw it out their again," Thompson said.

SIZING UP BYU-NEW MEXICO: Utah coach Jim Boylen was asked what he thought about Friday's semifinal game between BYU and New Mexico. Boylen said he didn't know if the Lobos could beat the Cougars three times, especially with Jimmer Fredette. The coach noted that BYU is a juggernaut because of the senior star and his confidence, toughness and competitiveness.

"Two great teams. I think it'll be a great game," Boylen said. "But it's hard to bet against Jimmer. He's pretty damn good."

FINAL GAME: Team captain Jay Watkins, Utah's lone senior, did not play in his final game with the Utes. He missed 14 consecutive games with a back injury before logging a farewell minute in last week's home finale against UNLV.

Watkins averaged 8.1 points and 4.5 rebounds in 14 games this season. He started 10 times and averaged 24.5 minutes per outing.

It's a wrap

The Utah men's basketball program completed its final season in the Mountain West Conference with Thursday's loss to San Diego State.

How they fared in their 12 MWC tournaments:

2000 (Las Vegas): defeated Air Force 74-65, lost to BYU 58-54.

2001 (Las Vegas): lost to New Mexico 56-53.

2002 (Las Vegas): defeated Colorado State 69-66, lost to UNLV 76-70.

2003 (Las Vegas): defeated Air Force 42-38, lost to UNLV 64-41.

2004 (Denver): defeated San Diego State 75-69, defeated BYU 54-51, defeated UNLV 73-70.

2005 (Denver): defeated Colorado State 62-49, defeated UNLV 73-67, lost to New Mexico 60-56.

2006 (Denver): defeated BYU 74-70, lost to Wyoming 60-47.

2007 (Las Vegas): lost to UNLV 80-54.

2008 (Las Vegas): defeated New Mexico 82-80 (OT), lost to UNLV 61-55.

2009 (Las Vegas): defeated TCU 61-58, defeated Wyoming 68-55, defeated San Diego State 52-50.

2010 (Las Vegas): lost to UNLV 73-61.

3 comments on this story

2011 (Las Vegas): lost to San Diego State 64-50.

Overall record: 13-10.

Championships: 2004, 2009.

e-mail: dirk@desnews.com