Once again, it's showdown week for Loyola Marymount and St. Mary's in Gersten Pavilion. The Gaels go into the weekend holding a one-game lead over Loyola in the West Coast Athletic Conference and come to town Saturday.
This week, the gym probably won't be packed, and Sports Illustrated won't be on hand. This is the distaff battle for first place in the WCAC. While the men's team is playing at St. Mary's on Saturday, the women will be in as fierce a race of their own.
Loyola is 14-9 overall, 6-2 in the WCAC, while St. Mary's (14-8, 7-1) and Gonzaga (11-11, 7-1) are fighting for the title which could result in an NCAA or NIT bid.
The Lions are 9-1 at home and get help from the schedule, with four of their last six games in Gersten. Gonzaga is one of their two remaining road games, next weekend.
While aiming at St. Mary's, the Lions can't stumble tonight against fourth-place San Diego (7-11, 3-5). Every game is crucial.
In contrast to the men's match-up, the Loyola women are the more conservative team compared to St. Mary's, the highest-scoring women's team in the WCAC and one of the most proficient three-point shooting teams in the country.
The Lions don't have a player in the WCAC's scoring top 10, while St. Mary's has the top two, Anja Bordt (22.1) and Cheree Tappin (19.5).
However, Loyola has been playing a more up-tempo game lately and has spread the scoring around generously. Lynn Flanagan, at 10.9 points per game, Tricia Gibson at 10.3, Regan O'Hara at 10.1 and Kristen Bruich at 9.3 are closely bunched, and freshman Nicole Taylor, a spot starter the last two weeks, has been the leading scorer in two of the last three games.
"We're scoring more points (than earlier)," said Loyola Coach Todd Corman. "Our team is different than the others. Every other team has one player in the top scorers. We don't. Everybody gets their points and rebounds. We're an equal opportunity employer. It's been successful for us. It's been a real team effort."
Loyola defeated St. Mary's this season, 74-65, before Bordt was eligible. St. Mary's returned the favor last week in Moraga, 78-64. Since Bordt joined the lineup in December, the Gaels have attempted more three-pointers than any other team in the nation. Bordt has the individual high in the conference, 36 points, and also leads the WCAC in assists, 6.4 per game.
"St. Mary's is probably the team to beat, and they probably have the player with the most influence in Bordt," Corman said. "When she's in the game, it's a whole different team. We've got to control her. We hope on the road they're not gonna hit those (three-point) shots. Saturday's game should be an up-tempo affair. We're 1-1. We want to take the rubber match."
With three weeks to go, however, Corman isn't ready to think about a first-ever appearance in postseason play. "That's premature," he said. "The schedule favors us. We've just got to go out and perform."
St. Mary's Bordt has followed an extensive itinerary on her way to becoming the West Coast Athletic Conference's best female player.
The high-scoring guard, who leads the WCAC in scoring and assists, ranks among national leaders in scoring, three-point percentage and three-point baskets per game. She set a school record with a seven-of-eight performance from three-point range against Portland in January.
Maybe her records should be listed as international. The 5-foot-8 native of Helsinki, Finland, came to the United States as a high school exchange student in Wisconsin in 1983. After graduation she returned to Helsinki for two years, playing on the Finnish National Team, before heading to UC Berkeley, where she was named to the freshman All-American team for the 1986-87 season.
However, Bordt didn't like the program at Berkeley and returned to Finland to help the national team prepare for the European championships and a shot at the Seoul Olympics.
When the Finns didn't qualify for Seoul, Bordt surfaced at St. Mary's, where she enjoys the atmosphere of the small school in Moraga as well as the team's up-and-coming status and wide-open style.
Bordt, though only a sophomore, is older than most of her teammates at 23 and is married to a San Francisco tennis pro. However, her coach says marriage hasn't tempered Bordt's athletic zeal. "Her obvious talent level is a plus," said Gaels Coach Terri Rubenstein. "But in addition to that, her level of intensity raises the play of the entire team. I have never coached anyone else with the amount of competitive drive that Anja has."
Saturday Night Live, Barely--West Coast Athletic Conference men's basketball coaches were upset when the conference shifted from a Thursday-Saturday format to Friday-Saturday. After last weekend, visiting teams were 8-8 on Fridays, 4-12 on Saturdays.
Loyola Coach Paul Westhead said his team's style may prove to be an advantage in the tough travel schedule. "I think we'll play better back-to-back nights than most teams," he said, "because of the way our guys extend themselves everyday in practice. Teams talk about being worn down that second night, but we're used to that."