LAS VEGAS — San Francisco coach Rex Walters loved it.
Counterpart Dave Rose of BYU had a little nervous laughter when asked about a Sunday off.
"Everyone will deal with that day a little bit differently," the Cougar coach said. "We'll see how it works out Monday."
In past years, Monday was the time for the West Coast Conference's tournament championship game — a place BYU never discovered after earlier exits the previous two years. Now, however, a restructured bracket means it's semifinals time.
Of course, BYU's policies don't change. It wouldn't pick up any basketballs on the Sabbath. Walters found out as a team staffer told him the upcoming opponent wouldn't be using the allotted practice time at a local YMCA, where various teams have held practices in town.
"That shows great commitment," Walters said. "That's a pretty neat deal. I've got a lot of respect for their convictions."
Walters said USF went through a half-speed session Sunday, one of the team's shortest of the season in preparation for the late tipoff (approximately 9-9:30 p.m. Utah time) on ESPN2.
The Cougars would do all of their work — though not really much of it — from the posh banquet and hotel rooms of the JW Marriott outside of the hustle and bustle of the city lights, in Summerlin. While the streaking Dons would go through more typical pre-gameday routines, BYU would stay the course and stick with brunch, church service and "some, not much" meeting time in the evening, according to one team staffer.
There was some freetime, however, to enjoy leisure and the gorgeous weather (nearly 70 degrees and sunny). One player even did a supervised workout routine in the decadent swimming pool.
"The team that's playing the best will truly win the tournament," Walters said after his team ousted San Diego on Saturday afternoon.
Walters, who was selected by his colleagues as the WCC's top coach — leading the Dons to 20 wins for the first time in about 30 years — likes that a day off from games (of course, a tournament scheduling nuance dictated by BYU's arrival) means it's theoretically more about strength and skill rather than pure endurance.
The championship will still offer no extra rest, being held Tuesday evening.
But first, getting there.
The Dons, who tied for second place in the 18-game regular season with the Cougars, are the WCC's hottest team, bringing a six-game winning streak. Curiously, they have thrived in an opposite manner than BYU, easily handling the 10-team league's lower tier while going 0-for-4 against BYU and top-seeded Gonzaga.
Walters loves the way his team played against USD, even keeping its composure after back-to-back 3-pointers cut a double-digit lead to 48-47. USF reeled off the next eight points.
"Instead of looking for a way into the fight," Walters said, making a comparison to last year's early tournament loss to Loyola Marymount, "we were looking for a way out. We weren't quite honestly ready for that moment. This group is."
BYU has at least had some moments of playing on Mondays.
Rose's team ousted Texas on Nov. 25 in Kansas City, Mo., easily one of the better wins this season. Before that came a Nov. 11 win at Stanford, which appeared to be an NCAA Tournament team as well until a recent swoon.
The Cougars, however, did lose at Pepperdine on a Monday in the second game of conference play in late December. Players and Rose have pointed out how a lack of routine — no classwork because of the holiday session, and plenty of freetime — plus a crack in confidence hurt them at that point.
That shouldn't be a factor now — BYU has won five consecutive games.
Walters speaks highly of Rose, who is 5-1 against him since joining the WCC despite some close calls, but also doesn't lack in faith of his own team.
"I told our guys we're the best team here, quite honestly," he said. "But you've gotta do it on the floor....I think we have as good of a chance as anyone out here."
Rose wouldn't counter with hype, only saying "They've got themselves a really balanced team. I think that's why Rex is so confident."
Pacific joined the league as the 10th member, and the WCC restructured its bracket. Meaning the top two seeds (Gonzaga, BYU) weren't automatically protected to the semifinals. They had to win quarterfinals, as well.
The day off is big to some, evening the playing field. For BYU, the day of the week made it a way of life.
"Fatigue makes cowards of us all," Walters said. "Fatigue will not be as big of a factor here, which I think is a good thing."
No. 2 BYU vs. No. 3 San Francisco
West Coast Conference semifinals
9 p.m. MST, Orleans Arena; Las Vegas
Radio: KSL 1160 AM (102.7 FM)
Tip-ins: BYU and USF tied for second place behind Gonzaga, but the Cougars earned the higher seed by winning both regular-season meetings. ...No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 4 Saint Mary's play the earlier semifinal (7 p.m. MST on ESPN). ...BYU won both meetings this season by a total of 12 points.