Giggling Stops After the Tip-Off : Loyola’s Freewheeling Lady Lion Forward Has a Serious Game Face

Times Staff Writer

Regan O’Hara, Loyola Marymount women’s basketball catalyst, strolled into Gersten Pavilion casually blowing bubbles with her gum while her teammates were shooting baskets.

Attired in a Giants T-shirt, shorts and a red Felix the Cat cap, she sat on a chair and changed into her red and white Nike high tops.

She got up, dribbled the ball for a minute and took a shot that went through the net without touching the rim.

It was an effortless shot, one that O’Hara made while giggling and chatting with teammates. She wasn’t even paying attention to what Coach Todd Corman was saying.

After all, it was just a lax shoot-around to warm up for the match-up against Columbia University.

In a real game, things are different for the 5-11 forward. There’s no laughing or joking. Not that O’Hara is loud. She doesn’t talk much. She’s shy and hates attention.

She doesn’t need to talk when she’s on the court. She lets actions speak for her, especially when she’s inside the key, muscling for the ball or shooting.

“She’s just a good, solid, blue-collar player,” third-year Loyola Coach Corman said. “Regan is never afraid on the floor.

“I’d say she’s physically stronger than most of the girls she goes up against.”

O’Hara’s strength has contributed greatly to her college basketball career because she’s not quick, not big.

“And I can’t jump,” she said, laughing.

“I guess I just try. I always try hard and think that makes a big difference.”

The 21-year-old junior wasn’t a top recruit out of Louisville High School in Woodland Hills where she averaged 15 points and 15 rebounds as a senior. It wasn’t until the end of her senior year when an assistant coach at Cal State Northridge spotted her in a tournament that she was offered a basketball scholarship.

“I really didn’t think I was good enough to play in college,” O’Hara said. “When Northridge showed interest, I went there because I had nowhere else to go.

“I thought, ‘That’s really nice of them to give me a scholarship. I’ll just sit on the bench and at least go to school for free.’ ”

O’Hara did attend Northridge at no cost, but she seldom sat on the bench. During her freshman year as a Lady Matador she led the team in scoring (12.1), rebounding (10.9) and assists (63), which earned her all-conference honors.

“She’s just a very smart player,” said Northridge women’s basketball Coach Leslie Milke. “Regan was always around the ball. There’s just something about her nose for the ball.”

During O’Hara’s sophomore year in the 85-86 season, Northridge won 20 games and placed second to Division II national champion Cal Poly Pomona in the California Collegiate Athletic Assn.

O’Hara averaged 10 points and 8 rebounds that year and broke the school single-season free throw record (183) and single-game record by sinking 17 free throws against Cal State Los Angeles.

“When I heard she was leaving,” said former Northridge teammate Tara Flanagan, the captain during O’Hara’s sophomore year, “I thought, ‘There walks out CSUN’s only legitimate All-American candidate.’

“Regan is the kind of player that comes up with the big plays: the rebounds, the great shots and the right moves.”

But O’Hara wasn’t happy at Northridge. She wasn’t satisfied with academics or the basketball program.

“There really was no motivational factor for me academically,” O’Hara said. “I didn’t study and hardly went to class and was still getting C’s.”

She said she was disillusioned with the Northridge basketball program.

“I’ll just say that I loved the team. It wasn’t the players. The hardest thing for me to do was leave my teammates.”

Flanagan says O’Hara told her after her freshman year at Northridge that she had had more complex drills in high school than college and that she wasn’t motivated by the coaching. “Regan is a thinking player,” said Flanagan. “The program at Northridge was too simplistic for her. We had only four plays with 1-2 options and that wasn’t very advanced or in depth.

“Because of that, I don’t think she was very happy there.”

Milke, however, says O’Hara was satisfied with basketball at Northridge. She believes the main reason O’Hara transferred to Division I Loyola was because her father died and he would have wanted her to go there.

“There was really no other reason for her to go,” Milke said. “She got so much better from her freshman to her sophomore year. She was doing great and I think she could have been an All-American had she stayed.”

At Loyola, where she’s averaging 8.6 points and 6.6 rebounds a game, O’Hara is not the superstar, but she’s more satisfied with workouts, the caliber of competition and academics.

“There is a big physical difference at this level,” O’Hara said. “I’m in physical pain 24 hours a day. The conditioning is much more difficult and as a result everyone is in better shape.”

The English major is in full force after sitting out a transfer year. She played softball for the Lions last season but watched from the stands during basketball, which was frustrating because the team had such a terrible season (1-11 in the West Coast Athletic Conference, 5-23 overall).

“It was a joke,” she said. “I just laughed and tried to make light of it and thought, ‘Oh well, we’ll get them next year.’ ”

And so far so good. The Lions have won more games (11-9) than in the previous two seasons combined. O’Hara has led Loyola twice in scoring and five times in rebounding.

Although her only real goal is to graduate, she also has winning the conference title high on her list.

“I did well at CSUN,” she said, “but I just did it to have fun. It seems like there’s more at stake now. Now I’m serious. I want to play hard because I want to win. “