LAS VEGAS — When Lexi Eaton plays in the West Coast Conference tournament, BYU wins the whole thing.
Well, there's just one case of that happening, two years ago. But the sophomore guard couldn't play last year because of a knee injury.
She returned Friday and posted a good-sign 17 points (tied with Morgan Bailey for the team high) as the Cougars romped Pepperdine, 77-51.
"It felt awesome," Eaton said compared to sitting on the Orleans Arena bench last March. "Last year it felt like my hands were tied down. It feels awesome to be able to play with my team."
BYU could use those wrists and fingertips flicking the ball for the No. 2-seeded team. Eaton made just 4-of-11 shots but was aggressive to earn eight free throws, making them all. She posted a score right around her season average of points.
She's certainly capable of more at the conference-tournament level.
Eaton had 26 points on March 3, 2012 in her WCC tournament debut. She followed up two days later with eight points on 4-of-6 shooting to defeat Gonzaga, a tougher matchup for her position, and the Cougars went to the NCAA Tournament.
She scored her first points against Pepperdine on a silky jumpshot for a 10-2 lead, then quickly added a couple of free throws.
She was 1-of-3 from 3-point range, which could be a critical asset Monday when BYU plays arc-minded Pacific in the semifinals.
The Tigers are the No. 3 seed. GU, like usual, is the No. 1 seed and the championship is Tuesday afternoon.
∫Not an individual: BYU point guard Matt Carlino, who has come off the bench for a couple of months, wasn't pegged as one of the WCC's top 10 players when the 10 coaches voted on it earlier this week. His stats made it a possibility, but he was bypassed.
"I don't know how that stuff works," Carlino said Thursday. "Of course, I personally believe I could have been on that team. It is not like I don't think I could've been on it. Is there a chip on my shoulder? Yeah, I guess a little bit."
Tyler Haws was named the league's best player and Kyle Collinsworth was among the top 10.
But the junior Carlino is glad he still plays basketball, and not a true single-person sport.
"But (accolades) is not like something I play for," Carlino said. "If I wanted to play an individual sport, I would have played tennis."
∫Getting better: Collinsworth has practiced every day this week. It still seems like an amazing feat, considering how badly he looked to be hurt Feb. 15 when he fell awkwardly at Saint Mary's after chasing a rebound.
The damage has been described as a deep knee bruise. Two games in two weeks has offered plenty of healing time, but he's not perfect by his own estimation.
"I’m not quite myself, but that’s part of the game," he said. "Basketball, you get little injuries here and there. You have just got to play through them. I feel like I’ve made drastic improvements, and (the knee) is headed toward the right direction."
∫The big WCC event in the early stages has been saying goodbye to longtime Portland women's coach Jim Sollars.
He announced his retirement before the season, but it became official when Pacific beat the Pilots on Thursday night.
“It was a bittersweet victory, because it brings Jim Sollars’ career to an end with this game," Pacific coach Lynne Roberts said. "He’s one of the greatest guys, and anyone he meets will tell you what a great guy he is.”
Sollars praised his wife in his final post-game interview session.
“Before I go I have to say one thing… I always forget the most important person in this whole thing. My wife has been through approximately 40 years of weekends with 13 beautiful women and all the complaining that I bring home. And I cannot thank her enough.”
∫In case you wondered: The WCC is signed to stay at 9,500-seat Orleans Arena through 2016, with option years beyond that. In 2009, the league moved its conference tournament to a neutral site (rather than pre-determined on-campus sites). The WCC women's tournament also is played at Orleans Arena.
Conference commissioner Jamie Zaninovich said the league is not considering any more expansion (BYU joined in 2011-12 and Pacific this year) anytime soon.
∫Family in tow: With Lone Peak High senior TJ Haws advancing in the 5A state basketball tournament, who's going to be around Saturday to support older brother Tyler? Likely their grandfather, Ralph, who is also a regular at BYU practices.
Haws said he hadn't talked to his family about it, but grandpa could be there Saturday and other family may come down Monday or Tuesday. Lone Peak advanced to the state title game Friday night.