The first games of the college basketball season won't begin until next weekend, but Big West Conference coaches already are talking about March Madness, in particular changes in the conference's tournament format.
In July, the Big West adopted the same format as the West Coast Conference, where the top two seeded teams earn byes into the semifinals. The fifth- through eighth-seeded teams play on the opening day, and the winners advance to quarterfinal games against Nos. 3 and 4.
The tournament will be played March 10-13 at the Anaheim Convention Center.
"I think it's awesome," Pacific Coach Bob Thomason said during media day Wednesday in Irvine. "People should be rewarded for how they do. You're rewarding top teams.
"They still have to win it, but you're making it easier to win it, and that's how it should be."
UC Irvine Coach Pat Douglass had another take on the new format. The Anteaters have won 20 games each of the last three seasons but have been eliminated in the semifinals each year.
"I wish it'd been here a couple years ago," Douglass said with a laugh. "It gives you more incentive to play 18 games now."
UC Riverside just hopes to find its way in. After being ineligible for the postseason for four years because of their move to Division I, the Highlanders can now qualify for the conference tournament.
"Now we have something to play for," Riverside Coach John Masi said. "Subconsciously, it hurt us toward the end of the season. Instead of making us stronger, we were tapering off. It's going to keep us more competitive at the end of the year."
Big West Commissioner Dennis Farrell said he would like to add a 10th member to the conference after Utah State leaves but added that he is in no hurry to identify any schools.
Farrell has long sought to make the Big West exclusive to California. Utah State will join the Western Athletic Conference as a full member in the 2005-06 athletic year with UC Davis taking its place in moving up to Division I.
Idaho also wants to leave and reportedly would accept an invitation to the WAC if it loses one of its members to the Mountain West Conference. Farrell wouldn't comment on specifics, but the Big West is closely monitoring former member San Jose State and whether it can meet current Division I attendance requirements in football.
UCLA edged Texas Christian by one stroke to win The Prestige men's golf tournament Tuesday at PGA West Mountain Course in La Quinta. The top-ranked Bruins made up a five-shot deficit early and got birdies by Chris Heintz, Steve Conway and John Merrick on the 18th hole to fend off TCU, which won last year's tournament.
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* No. 15 Oregon State at No. 1 UCLA, 1 p.m. Sunday
The Bruins (15-1-0, 7-0-0) can clinch their second consecutive Pacific 10 Conference championship. Oregon State (12-4-0, 6-1-0) suffered its only Pac-10 loss to the Bruins on Oct. 3.
* UC Irvine at No. 21 Cal State Northridge, 1 p.m. Saturday
Northridge (11-3-2, 4-2-1) jumped into first place in the Big West Conference with a 2-1 victory Wednesday over 15th-ranked UC Santa Barbara. Irvine is 6-8-3, 3-1-3.
* California Collegiate Athletic Assn. tournament at Cal State Dominguez Hills, semifinals, 4:30 and 7 p.m. today; championship game, 2 p.m. Sunday
Top-seeded Dominguez Hills (17-1-2), ranked third in Division II, plays UC San Diego (10-5-1); second-seeded Chico State (15-4-1) plays Cal State San Bernardino (12-7-1).
* No. 4 Pepperdine at No. 17 Loyola Marymount, 7 p.m. Saturday
Pepperdine (19-2, 9-0 in the West Coast Conference) tries to win its 18th match in a row, which would set a school record. Loyola is 22-4, 7-2.
* CCAA tournament at Cal State Dominguez Hills, semifinals, 11 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. today; championship match, 11:30 a.m. Sunday
South Division champion UC San Diego (14-2-0) faces North Division champion Sonoma State (9-8-2), while South runner-up Cal Poly Pomona (10-7-1) plays Central champion Dominguez Hills (15-3-1).