BYU basketball: Cougars return to Las Vegas for West Coast Conference Tournament

Play begins Wednesday at Orleans Arena

Published: Sunday, Feb. 26 2012 11:29 p.m. MST

PROVO — It's a different conference, a different venue, but it's a familiar place — Las Vegas.

BYU is the No. 3 seed in the West Coast Conference Tournament, which tips off Wednesday in Las Vegas at the Orleans Arena. The Cougars (24-7, 12-4) face the winner of Thursday's Pepperdine-San Diego matchup in the WCC quarterfinals on Friday (9 p.m., MST, ESPNU).

For years, BYU competed in the Mountain West Conference Tournament at UNLV's Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.

"I think it's pretty exciting," said senior forward Noah Hartsock said of the WCC Tournament. "We don't have to play on UNLV's home court, which is a bonus for us. I've played in the Orleans Arena before and it was a fun place to play. I'm excited for a new conference and a new opportunity."

Hartsock, who is nursing a left knee sprain, wasn't able to play in last Saturday's 76-66 victory over Portland in the regular-season finale. But the Cougars are optimistic that he will return to the lineup Friday.

"Hopefully in the next two or three days we'll get some positive results on how that thing's healed and get him ready (for the tournament)," said coach Dave Rose.

"It's holding me back right now. I'm just trying to get through it," Hartsock said of his knee, adding that he "tweaked" his left ankle on the same play that saw him hurt his knee at Santa Clara on Feb. 18. "I just don't have any power (in the leg)."

Senior Charles Abouo is looking forward to having Hartsock back on the floor this week.

"He has the opportunity to get some rest this week," he said. "He has about five days to get his leg right again. We're excited about the chance of having him back in the lineup for our first game (of the tournament)."

The Cougars sit squarely on the NCAA Tournament bubble as they enter the WCC Tournament. Do they need to win out this week to earn a berth into the Big Dance?

"I don't think we necessarily have to win it," Hartsock said. "We've had a good, solid year and we're playing really well right now. I think we're going to have a good run here in this tournament. We've just got to make sure we take care of business and play the right way. We'll hopefully be able to get a bid into the (NCAA) tournament."

"I think this team's really good … I think we're good enough to get in there regardless," said Abouo. "But when you win your conference tournament, you control your own destiny. That's one way you can guarantee your team a bid in the tournament. That's what we want to do. But we also know there's a bunch of other teams that are thinking the same thing. It's going to be a tough tournament down there, but we're confident in our ability to win it."

BYU earned a bye until the quarterfinals, when they play either No. 6 San Diego or No. 7 Pepperdine.

"They're both tough teams. We'll prepare for both of those teams, obviously," Rose said. "All the preparation right now goes into one game, that's whoever our opponent is on Friday."

If the Cougars win in the quarterfinals, they'll meet No. 2 seed Gonzaga in the semifinals Saturday (9 p.m., MST, ESPN2).

The tournament will take a one-day hiatus on Sunday before staging the championship game Monday, March 5 (7 p.m., MST, ESPN).

Abouo said his team's focus changes somewhat at this time of year, starting today.

"We've got to practice hard and get after it on Monday. We've got to have the right mindset and get prepared. When you lose in the regular season, you know there's always something to look forward to. You know you can bounce back and have a chance to make it up. But in the postseason, it's do-or-die.. You have get ready for that mindset and be ready to leave it all on the line in every game. If we do that, we'll have a good shot at winning this thing in Vegas."

WCC BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

First Round — Wednesday

No. 8 Portland vs. No. 9 Santa Clara (7 p.m., MST)

Second Round — Thursday

No. 5 San Francisco vs. No. 8-9 winner (7 p.m., MST, BYUtv)

No. 6 San Diego vs. No. 7 Pepperdine (9 p.m., MST, BYUtv)

Quarterfinals — Friday

No. 5-8-9 winner vs. No. 4 Loyola Marymount (7 p.m., MST, ESPNU)

No. 3 BYU vs. No. 6-7 winner (9 p.m., MST, ESPNU)

Semifinals — Saturday

No. 4-5-8-9 winner vs. No. 1 Saint Mary's (7 p.m., MST, ESPN2)

No. 2 Gonzaga vs. No. 3-6-7 winner (9 p.m., MST, ESPN2)

Championship — Monday

Semi No. 1 winner vs. Semi No. 2 winner (7 p.m., MST, ESPN)

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