Loyola Marymount ended Pepperdine’s season in triplicate Sunday, shooting down the Waves, 112-98, in the semifinals of the West Coast Athletic Conference Tournament.
The Lions (19-10) used 14 three-pointers to build a 23-point first-half lead, then held off a Wave comeback that featured 11 three-pointers of their own to advance to tonight’s final game against Santa Clara. The game will be televised on ESPN at 8:30.
In the other semifinal, Santa Clara (20-9) shocked top-seeded St. Mary’s (25-4), 63-61. The 17th-ranked Gaels beat the fifth-seeded Broncos twice in conference play, but Santa Clara kept this game close and won on two free throws by Mitch Burley with 12 seconds left. The Gaels’ Al Lewis had two shots to tie it but failed.
A standing room crowd of 5,465 at USF saw Loyola set a blistering early pace, set a tournament scoring record, shoot 53% (including 14 of 27 from three-point range) and force 18 Pepperdine turnovers to eliminate their rivals, who were seeded second in the tournament.
Four Loyola starters scored 20 or more points, led by Enoch Simmons’ 29 (also eight rebounds and six assists) and Bo Kimble’s 27, mostly in the first half. Hank Gathers finished with 22 points--his season low--and 11 rebounds, and Jeff Fryer scored 20, all but two from beyond three-point range.
Pepperdine (19-12), which managed to pull to within six points with five minutes left, found its inside game limited and depended largely on the outside shooting of Shann Ferch, whose 25 points included seven three-pointers, and Tom Lewis, who had 20 points.
“We played a little too much at their pace,” Pepperdine Coach Tom Asbury said. “They probably played the first 15 minutes as well as they can play. I’m not sure it was our undoing as much as it was their doing. When they shoot like that at that kind of pace, they’re very tough.”
Loyola played one of its best halves of the season, building a 53-30 lead behind a barrage of three-pointers. Kimble hit four in the half and the Lions hit 10 on the way to a 61-48 halftime lead.
Fryer opened the second half with a three-pointer, and Loyola rebuilt the advantage to 70-50 with 18:25 left before Pepperdine offered a serious threat.
Three-pointers by Ferch and Craig Davis got the Waves to within 75-66, and Pepperdine stayed within single figures of the Lions until the nine-minute mark, when Loyola rebuilt the advantage to 12.
Pepperdine made one last charge at the Lions when Ferch hit two straight three-pointers to get as close as 97-91, but the Waves’ point guard, Marty Wilson, fouled out and Pepperdine finally wore down, and out.
“Playing them is like playing two games,” Asbury said.
Loyola Coach Paul Westhead observed that the Lions “ran, shot and defended like a team that could have impact in the post-season.”
Westhead was one of the first collegiate coaches to embrace the three-pointer as a first option. He noted, “We’re gonna hit ‘em, early or late. It’s discouraging to opponents to work hard for 20 or 25 seconds for a shot, then for us to come down and hit a three-pointer in three seconds.”
Kimble, who didn’t shoot well in Saturday’s tournament opener against Gonzaga, made 11 of 19 shots Sunday. He said, “Today our guys set great picks, and we were able to shoot (more comfortably). When we had it going, we were clicking.”
Westhead said he is encouraged that “our guys are looking for the extra pass, and that’s contagious,” and added that Gathers is sacrificing some points to kick the ball out to the perimeter. “He’s doing everything he can to get us into the (NCAA) tournament.”
Said Gathers: “I feel like we are the best team (in the WCAC). We have played like it the past two nights. We are geared up. We are going to win it, that’s the way I feel.”
Asbury will return to Pepperdine and sit by the phone, hoping for a call from the National Invitation Tournament.
“I’m not gonna say we’re an odds-on bet to get in,” Asbury said. “I hope we do. We’re gonna practice this week.”