"They're exciting, but I'd like to see them play some defense . "
--A fan after watching Loyola Marymount on TV
"They're fun, but that kind of ball makes me sick. They don't play any defense . "
--A sportswriter after watching Loyola on TV
The Loyola Marymount scoring machine is again leading the nation in points at 117.7 per game and has yet to be held below 90 this season.
The Lions are also giving up 108.4 points per game, and opponents scored in triple figures against them 11 times in the first 14 games. Opponents are shooting 56.2%.
What's going on here? To the casual viewer, Loyola games may be defenseless scoring fests. Coach Paul Westhead good-naturedly fosters that impression.
"We kind of encourage that (thinking)," he says with a mischievous smile. "We like the idea you think it's gonna be fun and games."
News flash! The Lions do play defense, and their press has been so tenacious this season that it may be more responsible than their vaunted fast break for their 11-3 start and Top 25 ranking.
It may not be conventional, Bob Knight-style, down-and-dirty defense, but it's effective at creating a hectic tempo and general confusion that complements Loyola's unconventional offense. The two feed off each other, and when the Lions' press is creating turnovers, the game reaches a fever pitch that sees some opponents come unglued. Then Loyola's points really cascade.
"Those of you who think Loyola doesn't play defense, think again."
--Oklahoma Coach Billy Tubbs
The facts: Despite all the points being scored on both sides, Loyola is forcing an average of 23.4 turnovers a game. In its first two West Coast Conference games last week, Loyola forced Santa Clara to commit 28 turnovers and San Diego 27. On nights when its offense wasn't sharp, the Lions still scored 113 and 119 points by feeding off its press.
Westhead's offense reached its record-setting level only when he instituted his game-long full-court press two years ago. The Lions went on to a 28-4 record and led the nation in scoring, and Westhead became a staunch advocate of the press. But the last two years, teams discovered they could go long on Loyola and score open layups.
Hence, this season's adjustment: Loyola still puts all its pressure on the inbounds pass but drops a man deep, comparable to a free safety in football, as a last line of defense.
The ploy has been largely successful. The Lions still disrupt opposing backcourts and force a high number of five-second and 10-second violations, and they still don't mind giving up some fast baskets, but teams get few unopposed shots anymore.
Westhead's press--a man-to-man even though most coaches employ zones--isn't complicated, but it is extremely demanding on the players. Its main aspects are a strenuous denial on the inbounds pass, followed by a furious chasing from behind if the ball is passed downcourt. Even though four players may be in the backcourt, they're expected to get downcourt in time to rebound. The Lions lead the WCC in rebounding.
"One time (Loyola) had four players on the ball; we got a breakaway and missed the layup and they got the rebound. It's really tough to run an offense against their press."
--LaSalle Coach Speedy Morris
The press has several variations, depending on which quintet that Westhead has on the floor. The Lions will at times ignore the player inbounding the ball and try to cut off the four other offensive players' access, often playing the man and not watching the ball, like a defensive back in football.
When the starting five is on the floor, forward Per Stumer usually pressures the inbound pass, with point guard Tony Walker nearby. Playing back near halfcourt, Hank Gathers, Bo Kimble and Jeff Fryer often charge the ball handler and get their share of steals. When quick guard Terrell Lowery enters, he pressures the ball and Stumer becomes the deep man. That takes advantage of Lowery's quick hands and Stumer's rebounding ability. As the man under the basket, Stumer often has to rebound against two or three opponents.
When swing man Tom Peabody enters, he usually plays the middle of the court, thanks to his talent for anticipating passes and his floor-burn hustle that often results in steals. In fact, Loyola has a deep enough bench this season that the press is as effective--sometimes even more so--when certain substitutes are in. Center Chris Knight, usually subbing for Gathers, creates problems not only with his long arms on a 6-foot-9 frame, but with his great speed as well.
The only hard and fast rule, the coaches say, is that every player has to hustle. "All the guys have got to be committed," says assistant Coach Jay Hillock, who coaxed Westhead to institute the press before the 1987-88 season. "If one (player) isn't doing his job, it can really expose your weaknesses."