BYU basketball: West Coast Conference a hoops haven

Published: Saturday, July 2 2011 10:50 p.m. MDT

Editor's note: This is the seventh story in an occasional series examining the BYU football program's move to independence and jump to the West Coast Conference in most other sports.

PROVO — BYU basketball coach Dave Rose had a pretty good thing going in the Mountain West Conference.

Not only did the Cougars capture four championships in the last five years, they established intriguing rivalries with MWC opponents like San Diego State, New Mexico and UNLV.

But those days are over.

BYU is jumping to the West Coast Conference in 2011-12. Instead of competing in famed venues like The Pit in Albuquerque, the Cougars will play in much smaller facilities called "pavilions" and "fieldhouses." The University of San Diego's home is the Jenny Craig Pavilion, which is nicknamed "Slim Gym." BYU will face somewhat unfamiliar opponents and will have to establish new rivalries.

But Rose has embraced this new era for the program.

"I'm excited for a new challenge," he said. "What impresses me about the WCC is their commitment to men's basketball. It's a men's basketball league. The incentives they have to increase the level of their basketball, I was extremely impressed. I really enjoyed competing in the Mountain West Conference, and we'll miss those competitive games. Hopefully, we'll be able to schedule those teams in the future."

BYU essentially ushered in its new affiliation with the WCC in March, when, ironically, the Cougars faced WCC foe Gonzaga in the NCAA Tournament.

BYU defeated Gonzaga, 89-67, to advance to the Sweet 16. That matchup was a sneak peak of coming attractions, as there are certain to be more battles between the Cougars and Bulldogs on the horizon.

"It's a preview of what's to come in the following years," said Cougar forward Noah Hartsock prior to that game. "It's going to be exciting when we get to join the conference and play all the teams in the West Coast Conference."

Certainly, the Bulldogs will not forget that game when the two teams meet this upcoming season.

Meanwhile, during this offseason, Rose and his staff are spending time getting to know the teams in WCC.

"We look forward to the challenge," Rose said. "We won't know really for a year or so how it affects our program. But I do know that it will be a real challenge trying to continue to win games and compete at the highest level."

"Basketball is all they talk about in the WCC. I love that," said BYU athletic director Tom Holmoe. "Those people are passionate about getting better. I think it's going to happen."

Gonzaga coach Mark Few said the addition of BYU "changes our league dramatically. It adds another top-25 school to it, gives us another school much like ourselves with a national profile. I think it probably across the country enlightens some people to the level of play that's in our league. I think people will probably look at it as a three-bid potential league year-in-and-year-out."

"This really repositions us in the national landscape. Our goal, our vision, is to be right behind the BCS in men's basketball and, frankly, all of our other sports as well," said WCC commissioner Jamie Zaninovich. "Certainly, adding a national brand like BYU and creating what will be a remarkable rivalry with Gonzaga and Saint Mary's and some of our other programs that are building right now, will add great value-wise, exposure-wise and multiple-bid-wise and otherwise. We couldn't be more pleased. To add a program that's led by someone with the character of Dave Rose is pretty important to us. All I know about Dave Rose is that he's a man of impeccable integrity and character. That's what we feel the people in our league are about."

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