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Pepperdine, Loyola have one last shot in West Coast Conference tournament

Both teams have struggled this season, but coaches believe they're headed in right direction as tournament opens Friday in Las Vegas.

March 06, 2009|Robyn Norwood

After a season overflowing with losses for Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine, the Lions and Waves are down to one more challenge as the West Coast Conference tournament opens tonight in Las Vegas.

"Everybody says, 'Well, I bet you can't wait for the year to get over,' " said Max Good, coach of a Loyola Marymount team that finished 3-27. But Good -- citing the attitudes of the players he inherited when Bill Bayno left the bench and later resigned for health reasons related to stress and anxiety -- said that isn't the case.

"I hate for the year to get over," Good said, contending that anyone who watched his LMU team practice might "think the record was reversed."

Because it isn't, the eighth-seeded Lions open tonight against fifth-seeded San Diego (15-15), one of two conference teams they defeated during the season.

The other was No. 7 San Francisco (11-18), which plays No. 6 Pepperdine (8-22) in the other opening-round game.

Pepperdine won five conference games but lost its last four, including a 70-62 loss to San Francisco last week.

"We brought in eight freshmen," said Pepperdine Coach Tom Asbury, in his first season since returning to the school where he coached in its heyday. "Candidly, it's been about exactly what we expected. . . . We're hoping to build this thing the right way and it's going to take time."

The winners advance to Saturday's quarterfinal games. The two top-seeded teams, Gonzaga -- ranked No. 14 in the Associated Press poll after going 24-5 and undefeated in the WCC -- and St. Mary's received byes into Sunday's semifinals. The title game is Monday.

St. Mary's (24-5) is the WCC team the NCAA tournament selection committee will watch most closely. Once ranked in the top 25, the Gaels initially stumbled after Patrick Mills -- the Australian star who scored 20 points against Team USA in the Beijing Olympics -- broke two bones in his right hand in a January game against Gonzaga.

Mills is poised to return in the WCC tournament, giving the NCAA committee -- which is allowed to take injuries into consideration -- a chance to decide if the Gaels deserve to make the field even if they don't win the WCC title and its accompanying automatic bid.

The other notable aspect of the WCC tournament is that it is being held at a neutral site for the first time, after shuttling among campus sites over the years -- sometimes forcing the regular-season champion to play on an opponent's home floor.

WCC Commissioner Jamie Zaninovich said the 7,845-seat Orleans Arena is a near-sellout for the event.

The women's tournament is also in Las Vegas, with No. 3-seeded Pepperdine (16-12) and No. 4-seeded Loyola Marymount (17-11) scheduled to play their first games Saturday against winners of today's opening-round games. The favorite is regular-season champion Gonzaga (24-6).

Perhaps no one is happier about the neutral site than Gonzaga Coach Mark Few, who often complained about playing on lower-seeded teams' homecourts.

"It's a great deal, and the reason it's great is it's finally fair to the student athlete," Few said.

"It's never been fair, and that should be first and foremost the No. 1 criteria."

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robynnorwood@verizon.net

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