A 20-game winner is a rather uncommon occurrence at Loyola Marymount, that is unless you play baseball. But the Lion basketball team broke a 27-year dry spell Saturday by holding off the University of San Francisco, 118-109, at Gersten Pavilion.
The victory was Loyola's 17th straight and made the Lions one of the first teams in the nation to reach 20 wins. They are 20-3 overall and 10-0 in the West Coast Athletic Conference.
None of the Loyola players were alive the last time this school won 20, in 1960-61, when it won the WCAC title.
Coach Paul Westhead joked: "I can't remember my last time winning 20. I think it was with the Chicago Bulls. We won 28." He added more seriously, "It's awful early to get 20."
The team has four games left, plus up to three in the WCAC tournament, so the school record of 22 should fall. All that might justify the crowd's chant of N-C-A-A, when Loyola led, 96-71.
It was almost premature. The Lions led, 100-75, with 11:44 left, but were nearly shot down by USF senior guard Keith Jackson, who scored a school-record 47 points.
Both teams were depleted in the final minutes. Loyola guard Corey Gaines was in street clothes with a leg injury suffered Friday--he's expected back for Wednesday night's game at Pepperdine--and USF leading scorer Mark McCathrion didn't make the trip.
When Loyola's Mark Armstrong fouled out with 6:13 left, the Lions faded. After leading, 100-75, they managed only eight points in the next seven minutes.
USF had four players foul out but spread the floor and patiently pulled to within 108-102. Loyola managed to hit several one-and-one free throws to withstand a final barrage by Jackson, who scored 12 points in the final four minutes.
Jackson's total topped the 43-point game by Bill Cartwright had in 1976. However, USF lost its seventh straight game, falling to 11-12 and 3-7.
In Gaines' absence, Loyola got season-high totals from Mike Yoest (35) and Bo Kimble (30), as well as 18 from Hank Gathers and 16 from Jeff Fryer, who was 4 of 6 on three-point shots.
The game was tied 10 times in the first half, the latest at 39-39, and Loyola had three starters with three fouls. But the Lions shrugged that off to go on a 34-18 run in the last 6:30 of the half.
Yoest scored 28 points in the half, twice going coast-to-coast for three-point plays, and Fryer hit three straight three-pointers as the Lions quickly built a halftime lead of 73-57. Yoest was 12 for 12 from the foul line, and the Lions were 21 of 23.
Jackson and forward Joel DeBortoli, starting in place of McCathrion, kept the Dons in the game, scoring 20 and 15 points by intermission. DeBortoli finished with 17.
Gathers led all rebounders with 11, followed by Yoest and Armstrong with 10 apiece. The Lions controlled the boards, 44-31, somewhat offsetting USF's 62% shooting. Loyola also had a big advantage at the foul line, hitting 39 of 50 to the Dons' 16 of 25.