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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

What happens in Vegas: Pac-12 basketball tournament’s new location

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Genaro Molina
Las Vegas, Nevada, shown in this 2004 photograph, attracts millions of visitors every year to casinos and entertainment venues. It also attracts those who love to hate the city. (Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times/MCT)

When the Pac-12 Tournament was at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, it wasn’t a hard ticket to come by.

Wait until the last minute for an Arizona basketball game in McKale Center, and you’ll be stuck scouring StubHub and eBay for overpriced tickets, or the streets by McKale for scalped ones.

Do the same at Staples Center for the Pac-12 Tournament, and you would probably actually save money. In desperation to fill the stands, tickets priced at $115 minimum were being sold for $20 at last year’s tournament.

The championship game between Arizona and Colorado, which the Wildcats lost, had an announced crowd of 11,197.

Staples Center has a capacity of 19,060.

“It’s probably one of the things that caught me off guard coming to Arizona,” said head coach Sean Miller, who previously coached at Xavier. “The lack of fire in the air, so to speak, and in L.A. it just amazed me that a conference tournament, especially at a conference as well-regarded as ours, that it was so poorly attended.”

So now the Pac-12 is on the move.

Last March, Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott announced a deal to bring the tournament to Las Vegas at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, a site better known for hosting boxing than basketball. But a change of scenery was necessary.

“Well,” said Arizona director of athletics Greg Byrne, “I heard people like to go to Vegas.”

That’s a given, and ticket sales have helped to prove that. On Feb. 20, Scott was in McKale Center and said that, for some sessions, tickets were already sold at 80 percent capacity.

“I think if you ask the general public where they would rather go, Vegas or Los Angeles, [Vegas] just offers so much more in many directions,” said Utah head coach Larry Krystkowiak. “If your team doesn’t win in L.A., I don’t know what you do for a couple days.”

Here’s a look at all you need to know about this year’s tournament, which will start on March 13 and end with the championship game at 8 p.m. on March 16.

The Arena

Primarily known for hosting concerts, boxing matches and UFC fights, the MGM Grand Arena is making its first major foray into basketball with the Pac-12 Tournament.

The conference had a dry run for next week’s tournament back in December, when Oregon State defeated San Diego 86-79 three days before Christmas.

It was a small crowd — 840 fans showed up, and the Arena has a capacity of 16,800 — but it wasn’t supposed to be a main event, and it was the first-ever basketball game at that arena.

“Based on our time there, it really looks like it makes a great environment for a basketball game,” said Oregon State head coach Craig Robinson.

“We had a little taste of it, and I was really impressed.”

The arena will be configured to hold more than 13,000 fans in the first year, according to Scott.

“I want to see it full,” Scott said. “I want to see an electric atmosphere, which I think is befitting for this type of event.”

Tickets for single sessions, which include two games each day until the championship, are sold out. But tickets for all six sessions are still available on the Pac-12’s website for $266.70 or $339.15.

It’s not the only basketball tournament in town, either, as both the Mountain West and West Coast Conferences also host tournaments in Sin City.

The fans

The biggest issue with Staples Center and its Los Angeles home was the fans, or a lack thereof.

That shouldn’t be a problem in the first year at Vegas, at least from an Arizona perspective.

Arizona is top in the conference in ticket sales for the tournament, Scott said.

“The whole Wildcat community is super excited,” said ZonaZoo executive director Paige Holmes. “It’s there, and I know a lot of UA alumni have bought tickets and I think a lot of people are excited for the move to Vegas. It’s a more neutral location than L.A., where USC and UCLA [fans] could pack the house more.”

The Pac-12 gave all 12 schools 50 student tickets to distribute, Holmes said

“I think the fact that it’s going to Vegas is going to be really good for our fans,” said Colorado head coach Tad Boyle. “I don’t look at it as an advantage or disadvantage for each school, but I think for our fans, they’re our winners.”

Dave Hirsch, Pac-12 vice president of communications, said ticket sales are going well. The first day is at 80 percent capacity, and the last three days are better than 85 percent.

The players

Supposedly, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.

The Pac-12 basketball rosters are filled with college-age kids, so there’s an inherent risk in bringing them to the aptly-named Sin City.

If a player gets in trouble, you can be sure it will follow them home.

But ASU head coach Herb Sendek doesn’t look at it that way.

“I think coaches worry about everything,” Sendek said. “I think we worry that guys make bad decisions and judgments every night. There’s trouble to be found, if you’re looking, no matter where you’re at.

“Of course there’s the added temptation in Vegas of gambling, but if somebody wants to find their path to gambling all they have to do is turn their computer on.”

The biggest concern would be for teams that lose early on in the tournament. Oregon State is projected as the 10th or 11th seed, so odds are the Beavers won’t make it very far past Wednesday.

“I don’t know how many teams are planning to keep their guys there,” Robinson said. “We happen to be right in the middle of midterms, so it’s important for our guys to spend a lot of time studying. But certainly Las Vegas is a place where you can get lost in the middle of the night.”

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