Loyola Marymount’s Coach Paul Westhead is portraying his basketball program as the upstart going against an established power, Arkansas, in the opening round of the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. tournament today.
Historically, that’s accurate. Arkansas was a perennially strong team in the late 1970s and the early 1980s under Eddie Sutton, and the Razorbacks regained their prominence in the Southwest Conference this season. Loyola, meanwhile, is making only its third tournament appearance.
But when the Lions and Razorbacks meet at 11:30 a.m., PST, in the Midwest Regional at the Hoosier Dome, they will take the court on relatively equal footing.
Westhead and Arkansas Coach Nolan Richardson are veterans, each in his fourth year at his current position, each making a second straight tournament appearance. Arkansas (24-6) has the better record but is a relatively anonymous team whose best players are mostly underclassmen.
Loyola (20-10) has one of the country’s best players in junior center Hank Gathers, the nation’s scoring and rebounding leader. The Lions have received their share of national publicity by leading the country in scoring the last two seasons. Last season, Loyola won its tournament opener, beating Wyoming, while Arkansas lost to Villanova.
The teams play a similar style, so a high-scoring game--perhaps approaching last year’s 119-115 shoot-out against Wyoming--is expected.
Arkansas, which plays a 10-man rotation, appears deeper than the Lions, who are without injured guard Enoch Simmons. Westhead has generally used eight players.
Tom Peabody, who started 20 games when Bo Kimble was hurt, moves into Simmons’ spot but won’t match Simmons’ 18.7-point average. The pressure may also be on reserve point guards Terrell Lowery, a freshman, and little-used sophomore Terry Mister.
Simmons’ broken hand, suffered in the West Coast Athletic Conference tournament, means that Gathers, averaging 32.6 points and 13.6 rebounds; Jeff Fryer, 22.9 points, and Kimble, 16.4, must approach their averages and be effective from three-point range to get their 22nd 100-point game.
The Razorbacks are extremely quick and press to force the pace, much as Loyola does, although Richardson said he may not press as much as usual.
“We don’t have to speed those guys up,” he said.
Richardson starts only one senior, ball-hawking guard Keith Wilson, but has several of the nation’s top freshmen, starting 6-7 forward Todd May and 6-2 guard Lee Mayberry, who has been compared to former Arkansas star Sidney Moncrief. Mario Credit, a 6-9 junior, starts at center but 6-9, 260-pound freshman Oliver Miller plays about as much.
Richardson’s other key player is 6-4 junior forward Lenzie Howell, the conference tournament MVP. Howell is averaging nearly 20 points and 10 rebounds in the last eight games.
Arkansas, which doesn’t depend much on the three-pointer, averages nearly 90 points and is riding a seven-game winning streak during which it has averaged 99.8 points and won by an average margin of 28 points.
Those statistics make Loyola’s players smile.
“If we’re playing a running team, I think it works in our favor,” Kimble said. “It’s going to be a crazy game. I’m glad we drew a team that likes to run.”