MORAGA — The bells were ready to ring at St. Mary's. The doubters in the stands, who hung a banner that read, "Top 20? My Butt!," were ready to say "I told you so." The Gaels, playing an inspired game, held a 94-93 lead over Loyola Marymount with time running out.
But in the latest installment in Loyola's dream season, Mike Yoest turned and threw in a three-pointer as the buzzer sounded to raise Loyola to a 96-94 victory before a frenzied--and suddenly silenced--crowd of 3,500 in McKeon Pavilion.
Yoest's bomb capped a last-gasp Loyola comeback and lifted the Lions to 23-3 overall and 13-0 in the West Coast Athletic Conference. The victory total is the most in school history. It also was Loyola's 20th straight win.
St. Mary's, the second-place team in the WCAC at 8-5, fell to 17-8 overall despite beating Loyola at its own game and disrupting nearly everything the Lions normally do.
"This was really a lucky fluke, but it proved we can come back from any point in any game," Yoest said. "They had played such an excellent game, they deserved to win more than we did. When you're on a roll, things just seem to come your way."
The first half went mostly St. Mary's way as the Gaels successfully posted inside for easy baskets while frustrating Loyola's inside game. The Gaels built several seven-point leads on the way to a 41-36 lead at halftime.
Center Dan Curry, who had a career-high 26 points, 16 rebounds and 11 assists, scored the Gaels' first 12 points in the second half as St. Mary's built leads that reached 55-41.
Loyola finally put together a decent run midway through the half and took a short-lived lead at 71-70 on a Yoest layup. Three three-point baskets by Hank Gathers highlighted the spurt.
But St. Mary's guard Al Lewis hit two straight three-pointers--the Gaels' only ones of the game--and things looked bleak for the Lions when Sly Hunter's follow shot gave St. Mary's a 92-85 lead with 1:30 left.
But the Lions, who put up two airballs down the stretch, just kept shooting. Bo Kimble, who had a team-high 21 points, hit a three-pointer. Yoest then hit two free throws to trim the lead to two.
Mark Armstrong rebounded a St. Mary's shot and started a break that finished with Jeff Fryer nailing another three-pointer for the last of his 16 points.
After a timeout, St. Mary's worked the ball inside to Robert Haugen, who scored the last of his 22 points on a short jumper with 11 seconds left. St. Mary's converted 64% from the floor (to Loyola's 48%) and shot 70% in the second half.
Loyola quickly in-bounded and worked the ball around to the left wing, where Yoest turned, set and fired. It swished. "Surprisingly, it felt real good," he said. "It felt like the best jumper of my life."
Yoest finished with 16 points. Gathers had 19, and Enoch Simmons had 14 off the bench.
"We did make the decision not to call the timeout. We're a running team, we had to shoot on the run," Lion Coach Paul Westhead said. "That was really an incredible game. Yoest--that shot was . . . wow. And Mark got the big rebound. That's the way it's been for four years--Armstrong and Yoest down the stretch."
St. Mary's Coach Lynn Nance said: "That's the hardest this (Gaels) team has ever played. If (Loyola) is not the best team in the West, I don't know who is."
The game was summed up by St. Mary's Athletic Director Dan McKillip, who congratulated West- head and told him: "That was the best game ever played in this building."