Loyola Marymount University opens its most important basketball homestand of the year tonight at 7:30 against Santa Clara, and both teams must hope it's not a free-throw contest.
The Lions, 9-9 overall and 1-2 in the West Coast Athletic Conference, are shooting only 47% from the foul line in WCAC games and are coming off a frustrating four-point loss at Gonzaga in which they made fewer than 50% of their freebies. Loyola was the WCAC's best foul-shooting team a year ago.
It hasn't been much better for Santa Clara (13-6, 2-1), which is hitting only 59% of its free throws in WCAC games. The Broncos, shooting 50% from the field for the season, are hitting only 41% in conference play and made only 37% in their loss to Pepperdine.
The Broncos still present big problems for Loyola, which has never had much luck against 7-2 center Nick Vanos and guard Harold Keeling. Vanos, averaging 16.2 points and 10.8 rebounds, scored his career high of 30 points against Loyola last year and has shot 71% in four games against the Lions.
Keeling, averaging 19.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.9 steals, had a career high 36 against Loyola last year.
As if those aren't enough worries for Loyola, the Santa Clara lineup also includes 6-9 freshman Dan Weiss and veterans Scott Lamson (12.1 points, 5.8 rebounds) and Steve Kenilvort.
Things don't get any easier Saturday at 7:30 p.m. when St. Mary's visits. The Gaels (10-8, 2-1) may be the WCAC's hottest team since benching former star guard Paul Pickett, who now comes off the bench. Coach Bill Oates has moved 6-4 Bryan Shaw to high post, is getting great play from 6-7 center David Cooke (15.9 average) and has team quickness with Daryl Smith and Paul Robertson at guard. Forward Eric Cooks (12.1 average) rounds out the lineup.