There was once a cute little phrase national basketball analysts employed when they talked about the West Coast Conference.
“The WCC is Cinderella and the seven dwarfs,” they’d say.
Cinderella, of course, was Gonzaga. The dwarfs were the other teams in the WCC that, for the majority of a decade, posed no legitimate threat to knock the Bulldogs from the throne of what was then a lowly mid-major conference.
That trite analogy is no longer apt. First of all, there are nine teams in the conference, now that BYU arrived this year. There is no Cinderella, Gonzaga having risen above that classification years ago. And, after a season of surprising upsets, it would be hard to argue that there are any true dwarfs in this conference, which will battle it out in Las Vegas this weekend at the conference’s tournament.
Also, Cinderella and the seven dwarfs are from two different movies.
What's Happening in Vegas
Your WCC Men's Tournament cheat sheet
With Saint Mary’s ending Gonzaga’s 11-year streak of at least a share of the regular-season conference title, the stakes are as high as ever for the Bulldogs. It’s not just Gonzaga fans flocking to Sin City, though. The WCC is flying as high as it ever has. Some analysts expect the conference to send three teams to the NCAA tournament (GU, SMC and BYU). Maybe even a fourth if one of those three doesn’t win the tournament.
“There’s no question that we’re on the upswing with the success our teams have had on the court, and that’s spilled into the national scale,” says WCC spokesman Jeff Tourial.
With BYU joining the conference and the tournament expected to pack Las Vegas’ Orleans Arena for the fourth year now, the conference is no longer worthy of a Disney-inspired quip. Rather, as Tourial points out, it’s the focus of national television coverage. Between the ESPN networks and BYUtv, all but one of the men’s games will be televised.
The booming quality of the WCC and the increased national attention haven’t been lost on Gonzaga fans, who have long flocked to the conference tournament as part fans, part vacationers, enjoying the fact that the arena (and a bowling alley, restaurant, bars and other amenities) is located within their hotel. It’s like a trade convention for basketball fans.
Gonzaga ticketing manager Josh Cox says that it’s hard to pinpoint how many Zag fans will make the trek, given the several different ticketing avenues, but he said that rumors of fans from BYU (whose home arena is three times larger than the Orleans Arena) snagging up all the seats are unfounded. The Gonzaga nation, as always, will be well-represented.
And even though the tournament doesn’t coincide with Gonzaga’s spring break, as it has in the past, the Kennel Club has plenty of bags packed. Some 250 students are set to make the trip, says the club’s staff advisor, Whitney Brooks.
“We definitely transport the community atmosphere down there. It’s a testament to the spirit that surrounds this program,” says Brooks.
The plan, as in years past, is to make Las Vegas as tough of a place to play as the Kennel, which the Zags will need, with the rest of the conference gunning after them.
And they’ll need that because there will be no dwarves down there.