Saturday's West Coast Athletic Conference tournament first-round matchup between Loyola and Gonzaga in San Francisco is a worst-case scenario for Bulldogs Coach Dan Fitzgerald, who figures even if his sixth-place team upsets the Lions, it will be too worn out to win three games in three days.
Given a choice of the top three conference finishers, Fitzgerald said, "I'd rather play Pepperdine. I think we match with them a little better. . . . Loyola with (Bo) Kimble is devastating. Loyola takes more out of you. If you have a preference, it might be Pepperdine because if you beat Loyola the first night you can't win the tournament if you're a team like us. We don't have much depth and many athletes. You might get a spectacular first-night effort but not have anything left. I think (WCAC champion) St. Mary's is the best team we've played, but they keep you close enough that somebody like a Gonzaga could jump up and beat them early in the tournament."
In their most recent game at Loyola, the Lions outran the Bulldogs, 147-136. In that game, Loyola's Hank Gathers and Kimble scored 40 points apiece, as did Gonzaga's Doug Spradley. Last weekend, Gonzaga took St. Mary's into overtime before losing, 67-63.
Fitzgerald says it's possible for the 14-13 Bulldogs to go all the way, but drawing Loyola for an opener makes it complicated. "We've got to find a way to slow it down," he said. "I don't think you can beat them at the pace we played last time. We have to get them down into the low hundreds."
Still, Loyola presents a number of matchup problems for Gonzaga. Fitzgerald: "We have to try to not let Hank Gathers get off as quickly as he has both times (in conference). You have to shut down Jeff Fryer. If you can keep Enoch Simmons and Fryer into the teens and hope Gathers and Kimble don't get too many more than normal, then you have a chance."
Sound a little like wishful thinking? "Of the five teams in front of us we aren't as distant, and I think people know that," Fitzgerald remarked. "I think Loyola would rather be playing (seventh-place) San Diego than us."
Gathers, who leads the nation in rebounding at 13.7 per game, is so tuned in to his board work that he keeps a poster over his bed reminding him that last season's NCAA rebounding leader, Kenny Miller of Loyola (Chicago), topped the nation at 13.6. The sign is courtesy of Hawaii assistant coach Dave Spencer, who originally recruited Gathers for USC.
"He calls me all the time and gets on me as far as rebounding," Gathers said. "When I go to bed I see the poster, when I get up I see it. When I'm just coolin' out I see it. It helps me tremendously, really keeps me focused."
Jay Hillock, Loyola assistant basketball coach, is crowing these days. The former head coach at Gonzaga sent little-known guard John Stockton on to stardom in the National Basketball Assn., and over the weekend another former Bulldog who played for Hillock, Mike Champion, was signed to a 10-day NBA contract by Seattle. "I now have more players in the NBA than any active conference coach," he said. "I have to call John (Stockton) and tell him he's not alone anymore."
The Loyola women's basketball team finished its most successful season at 17-11 overall and 9-5 in the WCAC, good for third place. Guards Lynn Flanagan, at 11.2 points per game, and Kristen Bruich, 10.5, led the Lions in scoring. Regan O'Hara and Tricia Gibson averaged 9.7 apiece and O'Hara was the top rebounder at seven per game. O'Hara is the only key player who graduates. Flanagan, Bruich and Gibson are sophomores. Also back will be forward Michelle Bettencourt, who started 25 games, and a promising trio of freshmen: Joelle Longobardi, Jamie Jesko and Nicole Taylor. All saw spot starts during the season.
Despite part-time coaching status and a slender budget, fourth-year Coach Todd Corman has the women's program on the rise. His record over the last two seasons is 32-26. Another promising sign is that the Lady Lions were tough to beat in Gersten Pavilion, going 11-3 at home.
CCAA Notes: UC Riverside, which plays host to the four-team California Collegiate Athletic Assn. basketball tournament tonight and Saturday, is the only men's team to have appeared in all four CCAA tournaments. The winners of the previous three are in the field: Riverside (1986), Dominguez Hills (1987) and Cal State Bakersfield (1988). Chapman is the fourth entry.
On the women's side, three teams have dominated the post-season berths, led by perennial power Cal Poly Pomona. Of the four teams entered, Pomona, Cal State Northridge and Chapman have played in all three past tournaments. Pomona has been the top seed and has won every title. The newcomer this year is Cal State Los Angeles.
Loyola's baseball game at Cal State Long Beach has been switched from Saturday to 1 p.m. Sunday at Cerritos College. . . . Loyola's basketball team is approaching the NCAA record for three-point attempts, going into the WCAC tournament with 689. The record, set by Oklahoma last year, is 791. The Lions lead the nation with an average of 9.3 three-pointers made per game. . . . Dominguez Hills sophomore Devon Akita led the Lady Toros basketball team in scoring (9.7), assists and steals. The two-sport letter winner has indicated she will not play volleyball next fall and will concentrate on basketball. Coach Van Girard hopes to recruit a point guard and move the 5-7 Akita to off guard. The Lady Toros, who struggled to a 1-11 mark in the tough CCAA, finished 6-19 overall. . . . The Dominguez Hills softball team got off to a 6-0 start under first-year Coach Janis Ruetz, its best ever, before losing a doubleheader Tuesday to Division I power Cal State Fullerton.