By Peter Tormey
LAS VEGAS – While the so-called “City that Never Sleeps” undoubtedly stayed up all night again gambling and carrying on ’til the wee hours of Saturday morning, the Gonzaga men’s and women’s basketball teams received a good night’s sleep. The Zags aim to be well-rested as they prepare for their respective assaults on the 2011 Zappos.com West Coast Conference Tournament that began Friday at the Orleans Arena.
The shuttle driver who took us from the airport to our hotel last night said, “In this city people stay up all weekend, and those with jobs leave on Sundays while those with careers go home on Mondays.” Already five of the 16 teams have been sent home from this tournament: the Portland and San Diego men and the Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine and San Francisco women.
There’s plenty at stake for all the schools competing in this tournament, most notably the league’s automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament for the men’s and women’s teams that win the championship Monday.
Both the top-seeded Gonzaga women and the No. 2 seeded Zags men received byes until Sunday’s semifinals after winning and sharing, respectively, the regular season WCC crown. The women were a perfect 14-0 in conference play this season en route to a seventh-consecutive league championship. The men earned a share of their 11th straight WCC regular-season title, extending the nation’s longest current streak that has become the second-best run in NCAA Division 1 history. The Zags men this year surpassed Connecticut (Yankee Conference, 1951-60) and Nevada Las Vegas (Big West, 1983-92) and now trail only UCLA’s 13 consecutive Pacific-10 Conference titles from 1969-79.
Gonzaga’s women (26-4) enter the WCC Tournament with an 11 a.m. matchup Sunday against No. 4 seed Portland (16-14), which beat No. 5-seed Santa Clara 75-64 in a quarterfinal game today. The winner of the Gonzaga vs. Portland game advances to the WCC Championship at noon Monday to face either No. 2 seed Saint Mary’s or No. 7 seed San Diego, which beat No. 3 seed Pepperdine 77-68 this afternoon. Saint Mary’s takes on San Diego at 1:30 p.m. Sunday. The women’s championship game Monday will be broadcast on ESPNU.
The Gonzaga (21-9) men also enter the Tournament on Sunday in a 7:30 p.m. semifinal against the winner of the No. 3 seed San Francisco vs. No. 6 seed Pepperdine game set for 8:30 p.m. today. Pepperdine advanced to the quarterfinals by beating No. 7 seed San Diego 84-81 in Friday night’s opening round. The winner of Gonzaga’s semifinal game Sunday advances to the WCC Championship game at 6 p.m. Monday to take on either top-seeded Saint Mary’s (23-7), No. 4 seed Santa Clara or No. 8 seed Loyola Marymount. LMU beat No. 5 seed Portland 72-68 on Friday, advancing to tonight’s 6 p.m. quarterfinal matchup against Santa Clara for the right to play Saint Mary’s in Sunday’s 5 p.m. semifinal. Both men’s semifinals Sunday will be broadcast on ESPN2. The men’s championship game at 6 p.m. Monday will be broadcast by ESPN.
Alumni Association Events Planned
Meantime, Zags fans are flooding into town for the big games Sunday and the Gonzaga University Alumni Association has planned several events. On tap tonight is Alumni Bowling at 9 p.m. at the Orleans Bowling Center. On Sunday, a non-denominational service will be held at 9 a.m. for alumni and friends of the University at the Orleans Hotel Board Room. At the same time, the University will present a Mass for Catholics in the Orleans Hotel’s Mardi Gras Room with the homily to be delivered by Gonzaga’s Father Craig Hightower, S.J. In addition, Gonzaga will present a 5:30 p.m. social in the Mardi Gras Room on Sunday before the men’s game. An alumni service project to paint the exterior of a Las Vegas woman’s home here begins at 8:30 a.m. on Monday.