PROVO — It’s been 17 long years since BYU has won a conference tournament championship.
Unless the Cougars go on an improbable run, end that dubious drought and capture the tournament title, they likely will be headed to the National Invitation Tournament for the third consecutive season.
No doubt, BYU has a difficult draw in the quarterfinals of the West Coast Conference Tournament at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas this weekend. The No. 3 seeded Cougars collide with No. 6 San Diego Saturday (2 p.m. MST).
A little more than a week ago, BYU fell to USD, 75-62, in San Diego. The Cougars went 3 of 22 from 3-point range in that loss.
Since beating BYU, the Toreros (18-12, 9-9) finished off the regular season by losing a close game at home to No. 6 Gonzaga and winning at San Francisco.
The Cougars (22-9, 11-7) dropped their regular-season finale last Saturday to the Zags, 79-65.
“We’ll move forward and get ready for next week and the tournament — start playing ‘survive and advance,’” said assistant coach Tim LaComb. “Hopefully, survive and advance for a while.”
The WCC Tournament tips off Friday with No. 8 Loyola Marymount taking on No. 9 Portland and No. 7 Santa Clara matching up with No. 10 Pepperdine.
After BYU and San Diego tangle Saturday, No. 4 San Francisco faces No. 5 Pacific, No. 1 Gonzaga goes against the LMU-Portland winner while No. 2 Saint Mary’s battles the Santa Clara-Pepperdine winner.
The WCC Tournament takes a break Sunday before staging the two semifinal games Monday night. The championship tilt will tip off Tuesday.
During the regular season, BYU got swept by both Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga while also dropping games to Pacific, Loyola Marymount and San Diego.
BYU is the No. 3 seed for the fifth time in seven years as members of the WCC. The Cougars’ seven league losses this season are the most they’ve suffered since joining the conference. They finished five games behind No. 2 seed Saint Mary’s.
“We’re looking forward to the postseason. We’re locked into that third spot. We’ll see how it works out,” LaComb said. “If you could go back and relive every moment, you’d go back and change some things. But you can’t do that. I’m the king of that on PlayStation. I hit reset when things go back. Unfortunately, no reset button here.”
The Cougars lacked the depth they needed this season. Guard Nick Emery withdrew from school in November, and injuries to Braiden Shaw and Ryan Andrus prevented them from making an impact.
How does LaComb evaluate this season to this point?
“Regardless of record, this was a team that was picked to finish third in this league,” LaComb said. “Obviously we didn’t have any idea that we’d be missing a couple of key players. I thought our guys fought really hard. There were nights when you wish you could have a shot here or a shot there and nights when you wish you could have played better. I will say that our team through ups and downs stuck together. They held their heads high.”
The Cougars posted a mediocre 4-4 record in February. They beat Portland handily last Thursday on the road before falling to Gonzaga Saturday. How much momentum does BYU have going into this tournament?
“The Portland game, and in spurts (Saturday), we had a real good competitive edge to us,” LaComb said. “Last weekend at San Diego we didn’t compete as great, which is not normal for this team. I liked our competitive toughness Thursday night at Portland. (Saturday) we could have gone away early, but we fought to push that thing back. That’s what we’ll take from it. We look forward to the opportunity of going out and being in the tournament and see if we can do some damage.”