News that Loyola Marymount had clinched at least a tie for its first West Coast Athletic Conference title in 27 years Wednesday was news in the Loyola locker room, where the Lions were almost taking that for granted.
The Lions said their 107-95 victory at Pepperdine was the continuation of their goal to sweep through the conference undefeated.
The victory, which improved Loyola's record to 21-3 overall and 11-0 in the WCAC, gave the Lions a three-game lead in the conference with three to play.
Coach Paul Westhead said his team didn't have time to think about clinching.
"Without trying to be funny, our guys don't have time to think," Westhead said. "Our guys run so hard, they don't have time to wonder where we're ranked. It's like a blur for an hour and a half."
Guard Corey Gaines, who played effectively despite an injured ankle that was heavily taped, said: "I was not even aware of (clinching). We want to go undefeated."
The team's four-year seniors, Mike Yoest and Mark Armstrong were pleasantly surprised, but also spoke of loftier aims.
"A lot of good things happened on the court tonight. (Clinching) is icing on my cake my senior year," said Armstrong, whose freshman team went 11-16. Neither Armstrong nor Yoest had ever beaten Pepperdine in Malibu. Armstrong contributed 11 points and 9 rebounds. Yoest had 9 and 5.
"I've been part of a lot of new things at Loyola," Armstrong continued. "I think we're setting a foundation. When I came here Pepperdine was king of the hill. Now I think there might be a new king of the hill.
"We're concerned with going undefeated because that's the goal we set going into conference. We were 3-3 and struggling, but the first day of practice going into conference we said, 'We're going undefeated.' "
Yoest, called by Pepperdine Coach Jim Harrick "the heart of that team," said, "I was beaten by these guys too many times here, I'm 1-3 here. This was our year."
Yoest and Armstrong are playing on a nationally ranked team for the first time--the Lions are 20th in both wire-service polls--and Yoest said he thought the team was tight early, playing to protect its standing.
"In the beginning (the rankings) hurt us," he said. "Once we buckled down and realized we were in a war, we were OK."
The team's other senior, Gaines, who transferred from UCLA, played effectively despite being visibly slowed by the ankle injury. He played 33 minutes, had 11 assists and scored 17 points, including three three-pointers in the second half.
"Corey literally played to exhaustion," Westhead said. "Without Corey Gaines, it would've been a different game. Gaines playing 30-plus minutes was probably the deciding factor."
Soaking his foot in an ice bucket, Gaines said it "was on fire," but he'll play at home Saturday, when the Lions can match their school record for victories in a rematch against the Waves.