The revamped Big West Conference tournament, reduced from 10 to six teams, begins tonight at the Lawlor Events Center. The winner receives an automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.
Conference champions and second-place finishers have first-round byes.
Fourth-seeded Utah State, 16-14 overall and 10-8 in the conference, and fifth-seeded Nevada (16-12, 9-9), the tournament host, play at 6. Third-seeded Pacific (15-11, 11-7), the Big West's hottest team entering the tournament, and sixth-seeded San Jose State (10-16, 9-9) are scheduled at 8.
Long Beach State (17-10, 12-6), which last season won its second tournament in three seasons and is seeded first, plays the Utah State-Nevada winner in the semifinals Saturday night at 6. Second-seeded UC Irvine (15-11, 11-7), among the most successful tournament teams under Coach Rod Baker, faces the Pacific-San Jose winner about 9. The championship game is Sunday at noon.
"I think Long Beach has the best athletes," Pacific Coach Bob Thomason said. "But I think we can beat them."