Pac-12 notebook: Las Vegas a possible tourney spot

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 22 2012 8:00 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — Local fans are used to spending a few days in early March in Las Vegas watching college basketball.

For many years, the Mountain West Conference has held its postseason tournaments in Vegas and now BYU will be playing there in the West Coast Conference Tournament and Utah State will play there in the WAC Tournament.

So how about Utah joining the other local schools in Las Vegas for the Pac-12 Tournament?

It sounds like a great idea and could happen as early as 2013, although nothing has been decided.

Commissioner Larry Scott, who's always looking at anything to improve his conference and its exposure, spoke favorably about it in a December interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, saying, "People will travel to Las Vegas."

The Pac-12 currently plays its tournament at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, but the tournament hasn't drawn well and as Scott said, "An empty stadium looks awful on TV."

The contract with the Staples Center is up after this year and the league is looking at several sites, including Las Vegas, as well as Salt Lake City and Seattle.

But Las Vegas makes perfect sense for the Pac-12. Look at a map of the league's 12 schools and you'll see Las Vegas is like the hub of a wheel. Seven of the league's schools are within a six-hour drive of the city of lights.

Cal coach Mike Montgomery, whose team plays Utah Thursday night and who spent a couple of decades in the old Pac-10 while at Stanford, thinks it would be a good idea.

"It's worked for the conferences that have gone there and it would be a solid attraction for fans around the league," he said. "If you go to a place like that, you're going to have people from all over the conference saying, 'Let's go down, get some show tickets, maybe play golf and do some other things AND watch basketball. It should probably be a serious discussion."

The MWC plays at the Thomas & Mack Center, while the WCC and WAC play at the smaller Orleans Arena on separate weekends. But the Pac-12 could play at the 13,000-seat MGM Grand Garden Arena, which hasn't ever been used for basketball tournaments.

UCLA coach Ben Howland recalls the excitement of playing the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden and noted how well the ACC Tournament draws every year.

"Las Vegas is a major draw and people are excited to go there," he said. "The bottom line, wherever you have it, you want to have fans from all the teams try to make it a yearly event where they go to every year."

That's why Las Vegas makes the most sense.

HOME STRETCH: As the Pac-12 race heads into the home stretch with just two weekends left before the Pac-12 Tournament in L.A. it appears to be a two-team race between Cal and Washington, who are both 12-3 in league play.

However, Colorado is right on their heels at 10-4, with Oregon and Arizona not out of reach at 10-5.

All five contenders are plus-3 in regards to road wins vs. home losses. That means if each team wins at home and loses on the road, there will be a five-way tie for the conference title at 12-6.

That is unlikely to happen, however.

Washington seems to have the easiest route with a road game against the last-place team in the league (USC) as well as roadies at middle-of-the-pack teams, UCLA and Stanford.

Cal also has three road games, but one is against Colorado, the only Pac-12 team that hasn't lost a home game this year in league play. The Bears also play at Utah Thursday and at rival Stanford next week.

Arizona should finish 13-5 with home games left against USC and UCLA and a road game at Arizona State.

Colorado has a couple of tough road games at Oregon and Oregon State, while Oregon goes to Oregon State, in addition to hosting Colorado and Utah.

Whatever happens, it looks like two or perhaps three teams will end up tied for the Pac-12 title.

email: sor@desnews.com

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