Loyola Still Gunning--but Without as Much Ammo
Nine months after Hank Gathers’ shocking death, Loyola Marymount’s basketball program has changed dramatically.
Most of the Lions’ awesome firepower is gone. And the Lions aren’t doing much better under new Coach Jay Hillock than the NBA’s Denver Nuggets are under ex-Loyola Coach Paul Westhead.
Loyola Marymount is 2-4. In an eight-day stretch starting Saturday, the Lions will play at Oklahoma, LSU and Georgia Tech.
The Lions could use a burst of emotion like the one that carried them to within one game of the Final Four last March. Playing shortly after Gathers’ death, Loyola Marymount won three straight games, including a 149-115 rout over defending champion Michigan in the highest-scoring NCAA tournament game ever. But they lost to eventual champion UNLV.
“We’ve gone forward; we really haven’t mentioned Hank,” said Hillock, who served as Westhead’s top assistant for five seasons. “The only time (the players) mention him is occasionally at the training table when they’ll get to telling Hank stories that the younger kids haven’t heard.
“We’re not playing for Hank or his memory,” Hillock added. “We’re playing for ourselves and trying to go on. This is a new team. We have six new players. Most of the old players are gone, so it’s a complete transition.”
The Lions led the nation in scoring the last three years, including an NCAA-record 122.4 points per game last season. But gone from last year’s team are national scoring champion Bo Kimble, now with the Clippers, who averaged 35.3 points; Gathers, 29 points; and three-point bomber Jeff Fryer, 22.7.
“That’s tough, but the other thing that’s tough about it is not so much replacing their points as their experience and physical strength,” Hillock said.
The only starter back is guard Terrell Lowery, who leads the team with a 26.3 average. Six other players average in double figures, but the Lions have been outscored by an average of 123.2 to 114.5.
The Lions started the season without three injured players: co-captains Tony Walker and Tom Peabody, and center Richard Petruska, a newcomer from Czechoslovakia. Peabody missed the first five games with a severely sprained ankle and Petruska the first three with a groin injury. Walker hasn’t played because of a wrist injury and likely will be redshirted.
“One thing we found out is that our team is not overly strong,” Hillock said. “That’s one thing we hope the Czech will give us, because he weighs so much. He weighs 228 pounds and he’s 6-10, and he’ll get us an interior game, so that will make our perimeter game even better.”
The Lions still run and gun and allow opponents to set their single-game scoring records. The big difference is that while Loyola usually won most of those games in the past, it has been losing them this year.
Hillock hopes that defense will make a difference as the season goes on.
A few seasons back, Westhead asked Hillock to devise a novel look on defense that would complement Westhead’s frantic fast-break system. Hillock introduced a game-long, full-court man-to-man press.
Westhead “really, really likes the fast pace,” Hillock said. “So do I; I just like more defense with it.”