Loyola Marymount University's basketball season ended not with a whimper but in a shoot-out with Cowboys in Laramie, Wyo.
Loyola had advanced with an exciting 80-75 opening-round victory at UC Berkeley.
The Lions ended the season at 19-11 and appeared to set a firm foundation for the future in Coach Paul Westhead's first season.
Here are some season-ending notes and tidbits from Loyola's first NIT appearance.
Loyola encountered--and played well before--great crowds at Berkeley and Laramie. Loyola officials were especially impressed by the frenzied 6,600 fans at Berkeley who gave their own team a standing ovation when the game ended despite the defeat.
Many of the school's Straw Hat Band congratulated Loyola players and fans.
The 11,000-plus fans in Wyoming's 15,000-seat arena were equally fervent--and loud. At one point Wyoming Coach Jim Brandenburg waved his arms to whip up more noise. The decibel level in both arenas was staggering.
Loyola's Forrest McKenzie had the perfect answer to the noise: He kept hitting long-range jumpers to quiet the crowds. McKenzie scored 54 points in the two NIT games.
He said the crowds inspired him. "The more they yelled at me the more I shot," he said after the Berkeley game. "I love to hear the sound of silence."
McKenzie and back-court mate Keith Smith finished their careers as Loyola's all-time scorers. Smith, however, fell short of 2,000 points. He needed 56 going into the NIT and produced 36 to finish with 1,980. McKenzie finished with 2,060.
Both are now projected as potential first-round pro draftees, and Smith expressed satisfaction with the year: "We can't be too disappointed. We had a pretty decent season."
Laramie's 7,200-foot altitude was a new experience for many of the Loyola players. Wyoming boasts the highest-altitude campus in the country.
"We hear you boys like to run," said one Wyoming official. "Hope your tongues aren't hanging out after 10 minutes."
Sophomore Mike Yoest was noticeably affected by the thin, dry air, gasping for breath throughout the fast-paced game.
"I was having some problems with it starting with the shoot-around Sunday," he said. "I was always out of breath and my mouth was always dry."
Yoest still managed to lead all scorers with 25 points--17 in the second half--and figures prominently in Loyola's future.
Yoest said next year's team "will be just as competitive as this year. We want to come back here (Wyoming)."
The Wyoming game was so entertaining that at one point, after the teams scored on 12 consecutive break-neck possessions, Rocky Mountain News sportswriter Randy Holtz couldn't contain himself. He jumped up and announced, "This is great basketball. This is how basketball is supposed to be played."
Later he said, "That was so great I wanted to go over to the student section and cheer myself."
One of the main cogs in Wyoming's lineup and an apparent star of the future is 6-11 sophomore center Eric Leckner, who was recruited out of Mira Costa High.
Leckner, who has filled out to 220 pounds since his high school days, had 20 points against Loyola and showed the fine turnaround jumper that helped him average 15.9 points this year.
Leckner was even more impressive in the Western Athletic Conference tournament where he scored 66 points in three games including 31 against Texas-El Paso and was named tourney most valuable player.
Leckner's fine play didn't keep Wyoming Coach Jim Brandenburg from picking on his defense after the Loyola game. "Call Eric a minus-five because he had 20 and his man (Yoest) had 25," the defense-minded Brandenburg said.
Despite the rap, Wyoming is extremely high on its highest plains drifter. "When Eric came here he didn't make a lot of his classes," a school official said. "Now he's become a pretty good student and he's come to understand what we expect of him. He's worked hard on weights and has become an outstanding player."
Leckner admitted there was some culture shock moving from Manhattan Beach to Laramie but that the magnificent facilities and the chance to play and develop make it a worthwhile exchange.
A South Bay resident who played a prominent part in Loyola's NIT game at Berkeley was UC guard Chris Washington, a junior from St. Bernard High. Washington, a good shooter, inexplicably missed five of his first six free throws on the way to a 3-for-9 performance. Cal may well have lost the game on its poor foul shooting.
But Cal Coach Lou Campanelli was sympathetic. He asked the media not to bother Washington. "He knows what he did. He feels bad enough. He's hit some big free throws for us this year."