LAS VEGAS — Now the Cougars have an opponent.
There were three options for BYU’s first-round opponent at the West Coast Conference tournament, after the Cougars earned the No. 3 seed in the league and a bye into Saturday night’s quarterfinals.
There was Santa Clara, a team that had only played BYU once because of the league’s no RPI matchup rules. Then there was Portland, which went winless in conference play.
The other option was San Diego, and the Toreros would have had to beat both of the aforementioned teams to make it to the weekend against BYU.
Yet here we are.
No. 3 BYU will face seventh-seeded San Diego (20-13) in Saturday’s late-night quarterfinals. Tipoff is scheduled for 9 p.m. PST at Orleans Arena (ESPN2, KSL Newsradio).
And the Cougars (19-12) are plenty familiar with USD.
Win, or go home. It’s time.
“That’s what is so exciting about March,” BYU forward Yoeli Childs said. “You win or you go home. We have so many winners on our team, guys who have won a state championship and have excelled in these type of games, and I think that really translates.”
BYU is 16-5 all-time against San Diego, including a 13-5 record since joining the WCC in 2011-12. It’s one of the best opponent records BYU boasts in its new league since leaving the Mountain West.
The Toreros are also a team that BYU beat twice this season, first by six points, 88-82 in overtime in San Diego and again just a week ago by 14 points, 87-73 in the Marriott Center in the Cougars’ regular-season finale.
The rematch will come with a healthy Gavin Baxter, the high-flying BYU freshman forward who missed the season finale with flu-like symptoms.
USD is the only team that has beaten BYU in a first-round WCC Tournament game, when the Toreros won in 2013.
But they’ll also be dealing with fatigue, playing three games in back-to-back-to-back nights.
BYU will be more rested. But will that translate to more rusted, as well?
It’s all about mentality, said BYU all-WCC first-team selection Childs.
“It all comes down to how mentally tough are you,” Childs said of the back-to-back games involved with conference play. “You can sit there and be sore, but guys you are playing are just as sore and just as tired. It’s really just about who is mentally tougher.”
With their win Friday night over Santa Clara, San Diego became the fifth 20-plus win team in the West Coast Conference. BYU can join the club with a win over Toreros, giving the league six 20-plus win teams for the first time in league history.
But to join that club, they have to get past a team that has built up momentum, in a gym that they aren’t used to playing.
Or are they?
“I think it’s great,” BYU shooter Zac Seljaas said of Orleans Arena. “It’s just like any other gym; you just have to go in and get used to the feel of it, and you’re set.
“The Orleans Arena is like home now. Now we just have to go out there and win games.”
WCC Tournament: No. 3 BYU (19-12) vs. No. 7 San Diego (20-13)
Where: Orleans Arena, Las Vegas
Time: 9 p.m. PST
Radio: KSL Newsradio 102.7 FM / 1160 AM