SANTA CLARA — Dear Hulkster, wish you were here.
Sunday's installment in the Loyola Marymount-Pepperdine basketball series--and the usual taut, gut-wrenching, point-for-point shootout--featured everything from flying arm tackles to designated villains to verbal challenges to gloating over fallen opponents.
Watch for highlights on Wrestlemania IV. Corey Gaines tried to break Tom Lewis' neck. Lewis tried to break Mark Armstrong's neck. Waves Coach Jim Harrick tried to break Loyola's three-game winning streak against him.
But in the end, Loyola broke his heart. For the third time in two weeks, the Lions came from behind to quell Pepperdine, 109-106. This victory, Loyola's 23rd straight, sent them into tonight's West Coast Athletic Conference tournament championship at 8:30 against Santa Clara.
Rough and rugged Santa Clara's presence must have rubbed off on the Southern California rivals, who were hardly laid back.
Pepperdine went on an 11-0 run early in the second half to build a 70-59 lead, but Loyola used three-pointers to stay in the game. Lewis, who finished with 32 points, scored inside to give Pepperdine a 89-84 lead.
Loyola answered with a driving layup by Gaines, a three-pointer by Gaines and another three-pointer by Enoch Simmons to take a 90-89 lead.
When Lewis broke away from the pack, Gaines caught up from behind and took him down with a flying headlock. Lewis' free throws and a subsequent Waves basket gave Pepperdine a 93-90 lead, and gave the crowd a target to boo.
Lewis' short jumper gave Pepperdine a 100-94 lead with 4:53 left. to the crowd's delight, Gaines missed two free throws. But before Gaines could gain admission in the villain's hall of fame, Jeff Fryer and Bo Kimble buried three-pointers and the score was tied.
In a battle for a rebound, Lewis grabbed Armstrong in a headlock and scored a takedown.
Now the crowd didn't know who to boo first. But Armstrong, who had 13 points and 13 rebounds, knew what to do: he sank a free throw to give the Lions the lead for good.
Mike Yoest followed with a steal that led to a Gaines basket and three-point lead. Trailing 106-104, Lewis had a chance to tie with 1:22 left but missed the first of a one-and-one, and Kimble hit a jumper for a 108-104 lead.
Michael Comberland's follow shot pulled the Waves to within two. Gaines hit a free throw with 26 seconds left, and as Pepperdine worked for a last shot, Hank Gathers came through the lane to block a baseline shot by Lewis.
"The games we've had with Pepperdine have been some of the best college encounters I've ever been involved in," Lions Coach Paul Westhead said. "I'll remember Pepperdine in 1988 for a long, long time."
Harrick said, "You've got to be real fortunate to win like that, and Loyola was. The shots you'd hope they'd take, they make. They're unconscious."
Of the two intentional fouls, Harrick said, "They were fortunate Gaines wasn't kicked out. If the first one didn't happen, the second one probably wouldn't."
Kimble led Loyola with 24 points, followed by Gaines' 22 and Gathers' 18. Craig Davis had 19 for Pepperdine, and Levy Middlebrooks added 17.
Loyola is 26-3. Pepperdine finished the season at 17-12.
Loyola trailed most of the first half, falling behind early by as much as 27-16. The Lions ran off a 8-0 run and drew even at 35-all but the Waves, paced by Tom Lewis' 12 points and Craig Davis' 11, held them off until just before the halftime buzzer, when Gaines fed Gathers for an alley-oop slam with 6 seconds left.
That gave the Lions a 55-54 lead, and gave Gathers 11 points for the half, tying him with Kimble.
Santa Clara 69, St. Mary's 62--In the other unexpectedly high-scoring semifinal--neither team topped 40 points the last time they played--the host Broncos held off the second-seeded Gaels thanks to a second-half rally and St. Mary's shooting problems.
The Gaels led, 36-35, at the half, but didn't sink a field goal until the 12:16 mark of the second half, By then Santa Clara held a 51-44 lead and soon stretched that to 56-47.
The Gaels pulled to within four points several times, the latest at 65-61, but hurt their own chances by missing nine straight free throws and making only 5 of 16 down the stretch.
Center Dan Weiss led a balanced Broncos attack with 12 points. Robert Haugen and Dan Curry also scored a dozen apiece for St. Mary's. The Gaels finish 19-9 and now hope for an NIT bid. Santa Clara improved to 20-9.