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Originally published Monday, March 11, 2013 at 8:02 PM

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Seattle U hopes to start winning the close ones in WAC tournament

Seattle U men go into WAC men's basketball tournament hopeful that close losses can turn into victories. The Redhawks open the tournament against Texas State on Tuesday.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Tuesday

Seattle U vs. Texas State @ Las Vegas, 6 p.m.

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The Seattle University men's basketball team's hopes for success at the Western Athletic Conference tournament rest on reversing a seasonlong trend of losing the close ones.

In their first game of the tournament, at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, the Redhawks will play a team that frustrated them as much as any this season — Texas State.

Seattle U enters the tournament as the No. 10 seed, with a 3-15 conference record, 8-21 overall.

That record includes an 0-8 mark in games decided by four points or less. The Redhawks lost twice to Texas State — 86-83 at KeyArena on Jan. 26 and 67-65 in San Marcos, Texas on Feb. 28.

While the fact the Redhawks were so often so close proved exasperating for coach Cameron Dollar and his players, it also offers a ray of hope.

"Despite our record, I think all the guys on the team and the coaches feel like we can come into the tournament and still make noise and still have a chance to compete," said senior forward Chad Rasmussen. "We have competed with every team we have played this season."

This is the first time Seattle U has been eligible for the NCAA tournament since 1980. But the road to the Big Dance won't be easy. The Redhawks will have to win four games in five days, beginning with Texas State, the No. 7 seed. The winner will advance to play No. 2 seed Denver in the quarterfinals at 2:30 p.m. Thursday.

"You've got four games to ... shock the world," Dollar said. "I'm definitely still optimistic and looking forward to the challenge."

The Redhawks will need a long run in the postseason to avoid the worst record of Dollar's four years at Seattle U. The Redhawks were 17-14 in Dollar's first season in 2009-10, 11-20 in 2010-11 and 12-15 last season — all as an independent when the school was finishing the transition to full Division I status.

Dollar, though, points to the close games as evidence the program continues to make progress.

"I am disappointed because we should have gotten over the hump more times than we have," he said. "But it just makes me more determined to get over it. It's not so disappointing that it makes me want to pack it up. It actually makes me want to ramp it up even more because it is so close.

"In looking toward Vegas, it's where dreams are made. You've got four games to change your whole season. You take it one game at a time. You get over the hump one time, it leads you to the next time."

What the Redhawks also must do is keep turnovers in check. They're averaging 18, tied for 345th out of 347 teams nationally.

Dollar, though, said turnovers haven't been the sole cause of the team's woes.

"There hasn't really been a common theme (to the close losses)," he said. "We've lost them about every way you can lose them."

That includes Seattle U's past two games — a 75-74 overtime loss Wednesday to CSU-Bakersfield and a 76-72 loss Saturday at Idaho. Dollar, though, says the fact the Redhawks have not gotten down in the face of all the tight defeats is a sign that hope remains.

"Sometimes programs go through this kind of a challenge," he said. "You have these growing pains and you fight and you fight to get over the hump and you finally break through. ... You can see the progress, you just don't see it in the win-loss column."

He hopes that changes this week.

Bob Condotta: 206-515-5699 or bcondotta@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @bcondotta.

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