COLLEGES / ALAN DROOZ : WCC Teams Hold Their Own in Battle for Best of the West

The West Coast Conference has made some strides toward respectability over the past 12 years, but still suffers an identity crisis when compared to the West's best-known conferences, the Pacific 10 and Big West.

But a look at the basketball and baseball records over that period--particularly in the last six years--shows that Loyola Marymount and Pepperdine have held their own against other NCAA Division I competition in the Southland.

Research by the Pepperdine athletic department shows that in the past 12 years, UCLA has the best basketball record among the Southland's eight Division I schools at 271-122. The Bruins have made 10 postseason appearances.

Next is Pepperdine (249-139), followed by Cal State Fullerton (191-188), UC Santa Barbara (179-185), USC (180-192), Loyola Marymount (172-202), UC Irvine (177-195) and Cal State Long Beach (174-205).

In that span, Pepperdine is second with nine postseason appearances. Loyola is third with five tournament invitations--four in the NCAA Regionals and one in the National Invitation Tournament.

In the past six years, the Lions have made the area's most dramatic improvement, posting a 121-63 record and .658 winning percentage. Pepperdine is 113-69 (.621) and UCLA is 122-65 (.652). Although the Bruins have beaten Loyola and Pepperdine in recent meetings, the Lions have defeated Oregon State in Corvallis in December 1989 and Santa Barbara the past two meetings.

The two WCC teams have had similar success in baseball, where there is more interconference play.

In the past 12 years, Fullerton has the best record at 571-262 (.685), with eight NCAA regional appearances. Pepperdine, which also has eight postseason invitations, is next (528-244), followed by Santa Barbara (432-331), USC (436-345), UCLA (430-352), Loyola (428-358), UC Irvine (345-376) and Long Beach (377-424).

In the past seven years, Loyola makes a dramatic jump with a record of 283-145 and .661 winning percentage. They have made four regional appearances.

Pepperdine has been equally impressive over that period, with a record of 294-131 (.692).

Although the WCC tends to be overlooked at tournament time, the numbers suggest that conference teams be given a closer look.

Signings--Several Loyola Marymount baseball players have signed professional contracts and are reporting to teams this week.

Basketball standout Terrell Lowery, a second-round pick, and infielder Todd Gates, who was chosen in the 17th round, both signed with the Texas Rangers and reported to a minor league team in Butte, Mont.

Others signing were outfielder Rick Mediavilla and infielder Darrel Deak, both with the St. Louis Cardinals, and pitcher Jon Willard, who signed as a free agent with the Salt Lake City Trappers. The Trappers have no major league affiliation.

Boston Red Sox draftees Joe Caruso, chosen in the third round, and Joe Ciccarella, taken in the fourth, were still negotiating this week.

Lowery, who hadn't played baseball in three years, impressed the Rangers with his athleticism as well as his obvious baseball talent, batting .407 in 31 games. Gates, who previously attended the University of Virginia on a basketball scholarship, batted only 10 times this season, but the Rangers liked his speed and quickness.

"If nothing else, we'll have a great basketball team," Rangers scouting director Sandy Johnson said.

Lowery's signing bonus and contract were structured so that he can return to Loyola in the fall to finish his basketball eligibility. He will collect another bonus if he reports to the Rangers after the basketball season. Lowery reportedly signed a six-figure contract.

"He's a very fortunate young man," Johnson said. "He's got the best of both worlds. He'll be able to create his own destiny."

As athletic director at a school that is still smarting from not getting invited to the NCAA baseball regionals, Loyola's Brian Quinn has a novel idea: Make collegiate baseball a fall sport.

The Lions, who finished a half-game behind Pepperdine in the WCC and played a schedule weighted with most of the best teams on the West Coast, didn't receive an at-large bid partly because of a number of upsets in Eastern qualifying tournaments.

The NCAA selection committee estimated that four to five teams were bumped by teams that played fewer games against lesser competition but won conference tournaments to gain an automatic berth.

Quinn's suggestion is to do away with conference tournaments and have teams play in the fall, when there is good baseball weather in most of the country and teams from the East and Midwest could schedule a comparable number of games to teams in the West and South.

"Let's face it, sometimes the weather's brutal here in the spring," Quinn said. "Anyone who's sat through one of our windy games in February could tell you that. It's always gorgeous here in September and October."

Notes

After sitting out most of his freshman basketball season at Loyola Marymount, forward Kareem Washington has indicated he will not return. The Lansing, Mich., native suffered a chronic groin pull and didn't play after early December. Homesickness and the departure of Coach Paul Westhead, who recruited him, were cited as Washington's main reasons for leaving.

Loyola sophomore shortstop Chris Gomez was named the collegiate athlete of the year by the Hispanic Public Relations Assn. . . . USC volleyball standout Bryan Ivie was named player of the year to lead the Volleyball Monthly All-America team. The senior outside hitter is a graduate of Mira Costa High. The first team also includes USC's setter Dan Greenbaum of Rolling Hills High. The second team includes Loyola Marymount outside hitter Sio Saipaia.

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