LAS VEGAS In the quiet of Orleans Arena - a quiet that would grow more pronounced by the deafening noise to follow on my "2013: A Hoops Odyssey" tour - Idaho freshman Christina Salvatore hugged her mom with the type of embrace that requires no words be exchanged.
They just hugged. And hugged. And hugged.
It didn't matter to them that fewer than 300 people were on hand for the quarterfinal matchup between the Vandals and San Jose State at the WAC women's basketball tournament. It didn't matter that the WAC is a league of misfit schools, many on their way to other leagues, or that this year's tournament could be the last in Las Vegas.
All that mattered, in that moment, was the season wasn't over, that Idaho and Salvatore extended it for one more game, at least.
The WAC, Mountain West and Pac-12 are holding their basketball tournaments in Las Vegas this week, separated by fewer than four miles.
"If you like basketball in the West, I wouldn't know where you'd rather be from Wednesday to Saturday," Idaho men's coach Don Verlin said earlier this week. "It's going to be fun down there."
I took in the action at all three tournaments Wednesday, from the quiet Orleans Arena to the festive MGM Grand (Pac-12) to the raucous Thomas & Mack Center (Mountain West), ignoring the siren's call of the pool on a glorious Las Vegas afternoon (81 degrees).
Whatever quiet moments existed at the WAC site were overtaken by the thrill of championship week at the other tournaments.
The Pac-12 moved from Los Angeles to Vegas with a three-year contract, hoping for a bigger event and a better draw for fans.
Where better to get that big-event feel than the MGM Grand, which has hosted the likes of Mike Tyson and Floyd Mayweather, Paul McCartney and the Rolling Stones. Even the court security detail dresses like ring announcers.
The MGM went all out, hanging school banners in every available space and promoting the tournament on its billboard on the Strip.
Colorado, which made a halfcourt shot at the halftime buzzer and needed a victory to shore up its NCAA Tournament case, ousted Oregon State. The herd leaving the arena after the Buffaloes' victory was a true kaleidoscope of team colors. Fans were leaving in black and yellow and orange and green. Fans were coming in red and purple and crimson. And it's sure to get better Thursday, when the conference's top four seeds finally take the floor. On the first day in its new home, the Pac-12 felt like a conference tournament is supposed to feel, a convergence of schools and fans.
Far from needing to find its place in the Vegas scene, the Mountain West is - for this year, at least - the undisputed king of the Vegas tournaments.
The vibe for Tuesday's play-in game between Wyoming and Nevada was solid. On Wednesday night, it was electric. It felt like a final with New Mexico fans occupying more than half of the building. Many took off before Boise State and San Diego State tipped off in the day's most important game.
A potential UNLV-New Mexico final would be a boon to scalpers who are hanging around the Pac-12 and Mountain West gyms. Who knew Vegas was a suburb of Albuquerque?
The Mountain West is getting all the small details right. The court, purchased from last year's Women's Final Four, is perfect with its two-tone mountain landscape. The on-court product, good all season, is taking care of itself.
No matter how good the on-court product, no matter how big and loud and sold-out the crowd, these tournaments still come down to those moments. The ones you can see, like a game-winning shot or a key defensive stop that changes a team's fortunes and its destiny.
And the ones you rarely get to experience. Like a wordless hug between a mom and her victorious daughter.