Wanted: Hired gun. Experience preferred. Must be able to handle pressure. Apply, Paul Westhead, Loyola Marymount University.
As the Loyola basketball team heads into its last home stand hoping to escape last place in the West Coast Athletic Conference, the Lions' most obvious weakness has been a top gun, a la recently graduated stars Keith Smith and Forrest McKenzie, to take over the offense in the tight games and make the big shots down the stretch.
The Lions, riding a seven-game losing streak, have dropped to 2-9 in the WCAC and 10-14 overall. Defenses have ganged up on leading scorer Mike Yoest (19.5 average), and only sophomore guard Enoch Simmons has picked up the slack, averaging 13.4 points in league games.
But nobody has stepped forward as the pressure player, and the losing streak has snowballed. "We have lost some games that have been really close--if you don't cash them in you get weaker," Lions Coach Westhead said. "We've gotten weaker in our resistance."
Westhead says there is no easy answer to the frustrating conference season but one element is "the absence of experienced firepower in Smith and McKenzie, who not only scored the points but got them when you needed them."
The Lions close out the regular season with a three-game home stand starting Friday against the University of San Francisco at 7:30 p.m. Santa Clara is the visitor Saturday night, then Pepperdine plays the season finale at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
Loyola is two games behind USF and Pepperdine (both 4-7) and three behind Santa Clara and St. Mary's (both 5-6), so the Lions have a chance to leapfrog in the standings. Since the last-place team would play the first-place University of San Diego in the WCAC postseason tournament, a few wins are advisable in Loyola's case. Westhead, however, said league standing and playoff position aren't a priority.
"We just need a win," he said. "We need to win some games to make us more resilient, give us some bounce going into the playoffs.
"We're in a surprisingly positive, upbeat frame of mind. We have three games left and for sure one playoff so (the attitude is) let's play with quality time and get after it. This is the time of the season you're either looking to find the most inconspicuous, easy exit or stand up and show our face. I'm kind of excited about the home stand."
Westhead said he's not worrying about playoff position, but he predicts the standings will change. "I think a lot of flip-flopping is going to happen," he said. "It's not over yet."