LAS VEGAS — This place was built on odds.
BYU isn't crazy about its own, as far as the West Coast Conference gala and its future status — being a sure-thing placement in the NCAA Tournament — is concerned.
That is, if you consider coach Dave Rose's cautious words: "I think we probably have to win the tournament to get in. That's what our mindset is."
The Cougars haven't won a conference tournament since 2001, but will start that challenge Saturday (2:30 p.m PST) at Orleans Arena against Loyola Marymount, one of the teams that defeated them early in conference play to put Rose's squad in a fairly fragile position.
"At times it has felt like a roller coaster ride," Tyler Haws said.
BYU has won its last four games, and would need to win three more in a four-day span, capped by Tuesday's championship, to feel absolutely sure about its postseason destination.
The educated bet, uh guess, is likely that the Cougars — with a very respectable RPI of 35 and a 21-10 record — need to win at least Saturday and in Monday's semifinal to feel fairly confident about their postseason marching orders.
But as other (read: bigger) conferences wrap up their regular season, and then produce extra chances in tournaments of their own, Rose is certainly wary and has brought that concern to his group.
"Two wins? I have no idea," Kyle Collinsworth said. "But our plan is to go out and win it, so there won't be any problems."
The WCC tournament in general has been a problem. BYU regularly made the finals of the Mountain West tournament under Rose, though never won it. But BYU lost in the semifinals in its first year of the new conference and then went one-and-done last year with an unconfident performance against San Diego.
Such a showing against LMU (13-18) would be a disaster.
The tournament winner at 9,500-seat Orleans Arena gets an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament. The field is announced March 16, and games start a few days later with the First Four (which is what BYU started in two years ago).
Jamie Zaninovich, the commissioner, has gone on the record saying he feels like two teams — the Cougars and regular-season champion Gonzaga — have put themselves in solid position for at-large bids.
But it's trickier than that for both schools.
Could the WCC possibly parlay its "most competitive year we've had in our modern era," Zaninovich told the Associated Press recently, into three bids?
That doesn't seem as likely, if national bracket pundits are correct.
So if it's not Gonzaga and BYU in the final, and if another team gets the automatic bid, there's a chance the Cougars or Bulldogs could be on the outside this year.
Rose has taken BYU to six NCAA showcases in his eight previous years, though missed last year. GU coach Mark Few hasn't missed the "Big Dance" since his promotion in Spokane, Wash., in 1999. His team won the regular-season standings race by a full two games ahead of BYU and San Francisco, so it's the surest thing (RPI of 25, despite a so-so non-conference schedule). Even a BYU loss in the final to a non-Gonzaga could be harsh timing.
Continued NCAA invitation is no sure thing, especially because of a stronger field.
"You probably have the most competitive year we've had in our modern era," Zaninovich said leading up to Thursday's start of the conference tournament. "Four teams are in the top (66) in the RPI, which is almost half the teams."
All but two of the 10 teams bring winning records to Las Vegas.
Loyola Marymount isn't among that group, but the last-place team of the first 18 WCC games has again found new life, despite injuries and a depleted roster.
The Lions, who stormed to the championship game last year, had a mild upset of Portland on Thursday night.
“Honestly, I liked our chances coming out here. Our saying has been we’re losing but we’re not losers, and I feel like that’s carried over to this year and this tournament," said LMU point guard Anthony Ireland, whose ballhandling has caused BYU fits at times the past couple of seasons. “We’re down a lot of guys (due to injuries), but it’s a clean slate when you come to Vegas, and that’s what I try to instill in our guys' minds.”
BYU lost at LMU to start conference play, and responded in the Provo rematch with a blowout.
"I think we're in a great frame of mind," Haws said. "We've had a few tough challenges this year that have made us get in the right mindset."
Last year, BYU's No. 2 seeding would've afforded it a free bid to the semifinals. This year, with Pacific joining the league, there's a more traditional format that requires even the top two teams to play in the quarterfinals.
Win, and stick around until Monday. That is the sure goal, if not a sure thing.
"There's no guarantees," Rose said. "You've got to play well."
BYU at least has to like those odds, making the trip on a four-game winning streak since the nearly devastating glitch at Pacific on Feb. 13.
No 2-seed BYU (21-10, 13-5) vs. No. 10 Loyola Marymount (13-18, 5-14)
2 p.m. PST, Orleans Arena; Las Vegas
Radio: KSL 1160 AM (102.7 FM)
Tip-ins: BYU has won 13 of its last 16 games, not counting a conference-opening loss at LMU. ...The Lions defeated No. 7 Portland on Thursday night. ...The teams have never met on a neutral floor; BYU leads the series, 5-4, after a two-game split this season. ...PG Anthony Ireland paces LMU (18 ppg, 4 apg).