SANTA CLARA — Loyola Marymount, which lately has resembled a steamroller, took on the guise of a thief Saturday and stole a 94-93 victory from Santa Clara.
Before a sellout crowd of 5,000 in Toso Pavilion, Mike Yoest hit a free throw with two seconds left to cap a late rally and lift the Lions to their 15th straight win, the longest streak in the country thanks to Alabama Birmingham's upset of Brigham Young.
In knocking out its closest West Coast Athletic Conference pursuer, Loyola improved to 18-3 overall and 8-0 in the WCAC, two games ahead of Santa Clara and Pepperdine.
This one was the toughest since conference play began for the Lions. Santa Clara, normally a moderately paced team, outran the Lions for much of the game and held a 75-60 lead with 11:27 left. The Lions were having shooting problems--they finished 23 for 41--and couldn't contain the Broncos.
Corey Gaines seemed to ignite Loyola in the final five minutes. He hit a three-pointer to chop the lead to 85-78, and a little later scored a three-point play to pull to within six, 87-81.
Bo Kimble, who tied his career high with 28 points, hit a three-pointer to make the score 89-86, and after two scoreless minutes hit two free throws to bring Loyola to within a point.
With a chance for the lead, Gaines missed the first of a one-and-one, but in the scramble for the rebound, Loyola's Mark Armstrong got the ball to Gaines, who made another three-pointer and the last of his 21 points. When Kimble scored a rare fast-break layup, Loyola suddenly had a four-point lead.
Santa Clara scored four quick points to tie, including the last of Dan Weiss' career-high 33, and Loyola held the ball for the last shot.
Yoest missed the shot but was knocked down after letting it fly. He was awarded a one-and-one and hit the first one for the game-winner. Loyola was called for a lane violation, wiping out a second shot, but Santa Clara's in-bounds pass went awry.
"I knew it was going in," Yoest said of his game-winner. "I was living a fantasy out there. I would say we did steal one. Maybe 9 out of 10 times they win that one in that situation. This showed we can come back from way behind while we're not playing that well."
The first half was a reversal in form, played at Loyola's pace but with Santa Clara leading, 52-42.
The Broncos, who normally score 65 points a game, went on a 12-0 tear to break a 39-39 tie. The streak was paced by 6-foot 11-inch sophomore Karl Larsen, who averages only two points. He continually got behind Loyola's press in the last five minutes of the half to score nine points.
Another Santa Clara big man, starting center Weiss, had similar success early, scoring most of his 19 first-half points by going deep behind the press as Santa Clara took a 22-17 lead.
Loyola hit three straight three-pointers during a 17-9 run to take a 34-31 lead but then had problems scoring, especially inside. Leading scorer Hank Gathers had one point in the half--he finished with 15--and Yoest, who finished with 16, had only two field goals at halftime.
"We baited them as we expected," Loyola Coach Paul Westhead joked. "We figured if we gave them a layup drill, they'd be worn down by the half."
Santa Clara shot 63% for the game, and Loyola hit only 41%.
The teams play again Friday night at Loyola.