ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
That will include the Mountain West men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. The league’s Board of Directors announced Friday a three-year contract extension with Las Vegas Events and the Thomas & Mack Center to be home of the postseason event through the 2015-16 season.
Las Vegas has been home to the Mountain West Tournament in 10 of its first 13 seasons, with a three-season hiatus when it was played in the Pepsi Center in Denver.
University of New Mexico head coach Steve Alford has voiced his displeasure in years past with the competitive advantage gained for UNLV by playing the postseason tournament each season in its home arena.
“I’ve been here six years, everybody knows my thoughts on that,” Alford said Friday. “I don’t think it’s going to change – it obviously isn’t going to change.
“So if that’s what the league has decided on, the most important thing is that as we’ve expanded (the number of schools in the league), we’ve got to make sure we take care of the tournament. It’s got to be a big-time tournament that represents this league and how good it has become.”
Alford said he thinks the tournament is “first class” in its current format, but expanding from 18 teams – nine women’s teams, nine men’s teams – to 22 next year means logistical changes will be required to keep the event running smoothly.
Mountain West Commissioner Craig Thompson said in a press release “extensive research” has shown league fans prefer the Las Vegas location and that attendance figures bear that out.
Attendance has steadily grown for the event over the past decade with a record-high 82,787 fans in 2011. The average attendance of men’s tournament games has been 12,000-plus for the past three seasons.
Lower-bowl seating for this year’s March 12-16 event has already sold out.
But Alford’s contention of a UNLV advantage is supported by the numbers. The Rebels have a .739 winning percentage (17-6) in men’s tournament games played in the Thomas & Mack.
New Mexico has gone 1-3 against UNLV in the men’s Mountain West tournament, but two of those losses came in Denver. At the Thomas & Mack, the Lobos lost to the Rebels in double overtime in 2002. They beat UNLV in last year’s semifinals en route to a tournament championship.
UNM is 10-11 all time in the Mountain West tournament and 7-9 in tournament games played at the Thomas & Mack Center.
HOME COURT: Don’t worry, Lobos fans. UNLV won’t technically have a home-court advantage in the Mountain West tournament.
The league on Friday took to Twitter to send out an image of a new floor purchased for use in the five-day tournament with an image of the Rocky Mountains painted across one side, the league’s logo painted at center court and a pair of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup logos painted on each end for the event’s title sponsor.
The NCAA no longer allows adhesive decals to be placed on the playing surface out of concern for player safety.
The new floor may look familiar to some, especially those who follow women’s basketball.
Dan Butterly, Mountain West Senior Associate Commissioner, confirmed the league purchased the court from Connor Sports Flooring after it was first used in last year’s Women’s Final Four played in Denver with the same Rocky Mountain logo already painted on the floor.
The Baylor Bears won last year’s National Championship. As such, they had first rights to purchase the actual floor they won their title on, but declined. Second rights go to the host conference of the Women’s Final Four, which last year was the Mountain West.
Butterly declined to say how much the league spent on the floor, but said the league is very happy to own it for future tournaments.
— This article appeared on page D5 of the Albuquerque Journal