Updated at: 03/12/2013 6:39 PM
By JOHN MARSHALL
(AP) LAS VEGAS - Hoping to boost the Pac-12 tournament’s appeal, conference Commissioner Larry Scott pushed to move it from Los Angeles to a more exciting destination that would draw from all over the West.
The bright lights of The Strip in Las Vegas should be a good fit.
"We wanted there to be vibrancy and energy to the venue and we felt with Vegas, fans can enjoy going there," Scott said.
The Pac-12 will open its first tournament in Las Vegas with four games on Wednesday at the MGM Grand Garden Arena and continue until Saturday’s championship game with an automatic NCAA tournament berth on the line.
The Pac-12 tournament had been held at the Staples Center for 11 years and one of the big complaints was all the empty seats that could be seen on TV, particularly if UCLA got knocked out.
The Grand Garden has primarily been used for boxing events, but did have a test run of sorts when Oregon State played San Diego there earlier this season.
While the capacity of the Grand Garden is only a few thousand less, it isn’t nearly as cavernous as the Staples Center and has the allure of Vegas as an added attraction for fans.
"Las Vegas is such a destination city and so many people enjoy going there whether there’s a sporting event going on or not," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "You combine that with the fact you have this competitive tournament and it’s the first basketball games ever played at the MGM Grand, and to me, it’s exciting and it’s going to be exciting for years to come."
Las Vegas has been a destination for conference tournaments.
The West Coast Conference concluded its tournament Monday night at Orleans Arena, where the Western Athletic Conference started its tournament on Tuesday. The Mountain West is also playing this week at the Thomas & Mack Center, UNLV’s home arena.
Now, with the Pac-12 in town, Vegas is even more of a basketball mecca this week.
"I’m thrilled to be moving to somewhat of a basketball haven when you consider all the tournaments that are being played there," Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said.
For all the fun available outside in Vegas, it could be just as good on the court the way things have gone in the conference this season.
No. 21 UCLA won the regular-season title, but may not even be the favorite to win the tournament.
No. 18 Arizona has the highest ranking, yet is the fourth seed after struggling late in the season.
Oregon, California and possibly Colorado could be headed to the NCAA tournament, so clearly there’s some talent there.
Even the teams at the bottom half of the bracket pulled off some upsets during the regular season. Three of those came on the final weekend, when Washington State beat UCLA, Utah knocked off Oregon and Oregon State beat Colorado.
Colorado pulled off an upset of sorts by winning last year’s Pac-12 tournament and it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if there’s another this season the way the regular season played out.
"Everybody wants to be able to make the NCAA tournament. It’s so coveted," Miller said. "There are so many teams that are close."
For the teams that don’t get there, it would obviously be a disappointment for them and their fans. But, at least for the fans, they’ll be in a place that has plenty of other options to take their mind off it.
"In talking to our fans, they know they can go there for three or four days, and it’s a win-win situation," Krystkowiak said. "They can enjoy watching basketball, but if their team (goes out), it’s still a fun place to be. It’s not like in Las Vegas you’ve got to figure out what to do with your time."
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)