Tommy Lloyd has had a standing appointment each March in Las Vegas to cut down a net and celebrate a conference tournament championship.
He doesn’t intend for that to end just because he moved south and slid over a seat.
The longtime Gonzaga assistant and first-year Arizona head coach led the Wildcats to an 84-80 Pac-12 quarterfinal win over Stanford on Thursday at T-Mobile Arena to advance to a 6 p.m. semifinal game Friday against Colorado.
It’s the first step toward winning a conference tournament title and securing one of the best debut seasons in college basketball history.
Lloyd, 47, is almost certain to become just the third coach to claim a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament since modern seeding began in 1979, joining Bill Hodges at Indiana State in 1979 and Bill Guthridge of North Carolina in 1998.
Lloyd has the most wins of any first-year coach in Arizona history, but Thursday was his first postseason victory as the Wildcats (29-3) held off the Cardinal (16-16).
“We’re a new group experiencing a lot of things, so it was good to get tested today,” he said. “I love this time of year. I love coaching in these games. Obviously you want to win, because if you don’t win, you have to go home. So it’s a position I’m comfortable to be in.”
Lloyd is familiar with playing conference tournaments in Las Vegas. His only previous coaching job was as an assistant with Gonzaga from 2001 through last season. In the 13 conference tournaments the Bulldogs played in Las Vegas with Lloyd on the staff, they won 10 titles and lost in the championship game three times.
Now he’s looking to build the same type of sustained success in Las Vegas with a program of his own, but he has company.
Gonzaga won another conference title Tuesday at Orleans Arena under Mark Few. Another former Bulldogs assistant, Leon Rice, has his Boise State team in the Mountain West semifinals at the Thomas & Mack Center. Dan Monson, who kick-started the success at Gonzaga, has Long Beach State in the Big West semifinals at Dollar Loan Center in Henderson.
“It’s really cool,” Lloyd said. “I’m like the little brother in the group. They’ve been great mentors to me, so I’m happy for those guys, and I know they’re happy for me. But there’s no time to reminisce now. It’s about winning games.”
He might have to do it without his starting point guard. Kerr Kriisa sprained an ankle in the final minute of Thursday’s game.
“I have no idea the severity of it,” Lloyd said. “But obviously it’s a quick turnaround, so it will be tough.”
Lloyd isn’t taking anything for granted, even a No. 1 seed that seems secure.
“The media narrative is the seed is secure, and the coaching narrative is I really don’t care,” he said. “I’m a competitor, and I want to win the next game. I love these tournaments. You almost get a four- or five-day training camp with your team to clean things up. I’m going through it for the first time, and I’m gonna learn as much as I can.”
That could be a scary thought for the rest of the Pac-12.
“The accolades he’s received are well deserved,” Stanford coach Jarod Haase said. “Obviously, Coach of the Year. Obviously there’s some good players on that roster, but I remember Coach (Roy) Williams used to say nobody can coach no talent, but not everybody can coach talent. And he did a great job putting the pieces together.”