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Lions Expected to Stay in West for NCAA

Where will Loyola Marymount be playing in a week? Thanks to its victory in the West Coast Athletic Conference tournament, chances are the Lions will remain in the West as the WCAC’s official representative in the NCAA regionals.

The Lions could be sent to any of eight opening-round sites but will probably stay in the West, either at the University of Arizona (Tucson) or Boise State in Idaho.

Where that leaves regular-season champ St. Mary’s is anybody’s guess, although it will probably be outside the West and a low seed.

For St. Mary’s, it was bad luck to lose in the WCAC semifinals, with a key player hurt and on the bench during the tournament. From the WCAC’s standpoint, however, it may have been a stroke of luck.

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Despite a weak non-conference schedule, St. Mary’s outstanding record, 25-4, and rank as No. 2 defensive team statistically in the NCAA should assure the Gaels a spot somewhere in the field of 64. Regional sites outside the West are Atlanta, Dallas, Indianapolis, Greensboro, N.C., Nashville, Tenn. and Providence, R.I. Seedings and match-ups will be announced Sunday. First-round games are Thursday and Friday.

Thanks to Santa Clara’s upset of St. Mary’s in the WCAC tournament, the conference has high hopes of placing four teams in postseason tournaments. That would be a high-water mark for the WCAC, which receives little recognition nationally but is seen as an up-and-comer by those who closely observe college basketball. Using a formula of team records and non-conference play, WCAC officials were crowing that the conference ranks in the top 12 out of about 40 on the Division I level.

Santa Clara, 20-10, has high hopes of being selected for the National Invitation Tournament for the second straight year, as does Pepperdine (19-12). If the Waves were to win a game in the NIT, they would join St. Mary’s, Loyola (20-10) and Santa Clara as 20-game winners, which would be another conference record. This is only the second time in WCAC history that three teams have won 20 or more.

Echoing last year’s sentiment, Loyola players and coaches said they don’t care where they go to open the NCAA tournament. “Like I said last year, I don’t care where we go, we’re just happy to be in and still playing,” Lions star Hank Gathers said.

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Last year the Lions made a good impression in Salt Lake City, winning a wild 119-115 opener over a highly regarded Wyoming team before falling to North Carolina. This year they figure to be a relatively low seed.

St. Mary’s Coach Lynn Nance said he believed his team would be selected even if it didn’t win the WCAC tournament. He was so sure that he held out his best player, Erick Newman, who was nursing a twisted knee. “I wasn’t going to risk his health. I’ve got to think about the NCAA Tournament,” Nance said. “We’re 25-4. I hope (the NCAA) shows us some respect, put us in there somewhere with a decent draw. I can’t believe anybody would overlook (the Gaels), ranked where we are.”

It would be surprising if the Gaels are overlooked, but Nance may be overly optimistic about the draw. Since the Gaels would be an at-large selection--instead of conference champ--they would probably be seeded in the bottom third of the regional and draw a strong opponent. Their style of play, however, will probably allow the Gaels to keep most opponents close.

Santa Clara should have a good shot at the NIT after its strong showing in the WCAC tournament and a solid non-conference record.

Pepperdine probably plays the toughest non-conference schedule, but Waves Coach Tom Asbury sounded more hopeful than optimistic about chances of an invitation. The Waves went to the NIT last year with only 17 victories. “I think we played well enough that we should have the opportunity,” he said. “I’m not gonna say we’re an odds-on bet to get in.”

College Notes

Loyola’s Hank Gathers continues to lead the NCAA in scoring (32.9) and rebounding (13.6) by comfortable margins. He needs 13 points to become the 12th Division I player to get 1,000 in a season . . . Loyola continues to score at a record pace, averaging 112.8 per game. The collegiate record of 110.5 was set by Nevada-Las Vegas in 1975-76 . . . UCLA assistant basketball Coach Paul Landreaux, who won several community college state titles at El Camino College, has reportedly withdrawn his name from consideration for the Cal State Fullerton head coaching job . . . Loyola baseball standout Miah Bradbury has been named a first-team All-American in Sport magazine’s season preview.


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