Loyola's press has been more effective than ever this season, probably because the team has more good players. "Any fast team could play it, but good athletes certainly enhance it," Hillock said. "Five Michael Coopers would be great. I'd think you have to be minimally eight deep."
Westhead is regularly using nine or 10 players these days--something of a break from his coaching style, he said. "I've never played a lot of people--I've always gone with a set lineup--but if you have a group of eight or nine and can rotate, it's certainly a plus," he said. "I'm subbing more than I ever have. Our whole gig is we don't wear out."
Westhead said the only time he takes exception to people discounting his team's defense is when they ignore the players' effort: "Our players work very hard. We have them in a mode where we want to steal the ball, where we must trap even if it does not look like a good time. It goes against the classic idea of stay ahead of the ball."
Westhead said coaches who attend practices to pick up tips on his offense are often surprised that he "preaches defense the whole time." He explains: "Once we get the offense in, it's there. There's more tinkering on defense, more fine-tuning."
The Lions entered the week averaging 13.9 steals per game--nearly five ahead of the next-closest team in the West Coast Conference, Pepperdine. Individually, Kimble, Walker and Peabody rank 1-2-3 in the WCC in steals. "I don't know if they keep a (national) statistic, but we've gotta be in the top 10 in the country," Westhead said.
Westhead said the defense "is not totally there yet," and the coaches are still learning the players' capabilities at different spots.
Hillock explained: "Some guys have some strengths. Peabody is an excellent second-liner because of his ability to anticipate. Terrell is a very good front-liner. He has very quick hands; he can do what we call 'rat'--he gets his hands on a lot of balls and has good denial. Per (Stumer) is a good deep man. There's a lot of pressure on that last guy to be a good rebounder, and he's tough enough to take the charge."
Another change made this season was double-teaming the ball only on traps, trying to keep more opponents covered instead of all the defenders converging on the ball.
Still, the most important component of the press is hustle. "It's an aggressive-type defense," Hillock said. "There are some gaps in it. . . . The only way to fill the gaps is to run. We've gotta be committed to run down, chase down (the ball) once they get behind you. You've gotta run it down; you can't give up."
Kimble said: "If one guy's not on his job, then it's not effective. When you see us (force) a series of turnovers, that's every man doing his job."
Lowery noted: "The press basically takes a lot of chances. It's a big gamble. We go all out, we play hard. Most presses you play in front. We play behind. We pressed in high school, but nothing like this. I was surprised how relentless the (Loyola) press was. This year is intense --we really get up in it and front the man."
Gathers, who like Kimble is known more for his scoring, added: "I like the press. I like to get into it. The big difference from two years ago is they're not getting easy baskets now. We have such good chase-down. The attitude now is, 'Think up, not back.' We know we can run the ball down now. We've got some guys who can flat out get after it."
"They run a high-risk press and they get some high-risk turnovers, and some easy points off it."
--San Diego Coach Hank Egan
The 1986-87 season was a tough one for Westhead and the Lions. They were coming off a 19-11 season and an appearance in the National Invitation Tournament. But their best players--Gathers, Kimble and Corey Gaines--were sitting out transfer seasons, and the team had trouble making Westhead's all-out fast break work. The Lions averaged an unremarkable 77.4 points but gave up 82.6. Conference opponents managed to hold the ball and keep the Lions below 70 points five times. In their worst game, San Diego held them to 48.
That summer, Hillock--who had played a conservative brand of ball as head coach at Gonzaga--brought up the idea of the press to force teams to play at Loyola's preferred pace.
At first, Westhead balked.
"We wanted to keep people in the league from holding the ball on us. I wanted a man press to speed the game up more, fatigue (opponents)," Hillock said. "Fatigue was a major concern. The standard thinking is you can't do both--go all out on offense and go right into full-court defense."
Westhead was concerned that a press would take some steam out of the break. But he decided to give it a try. The Lions scored 110.5 points per game that season, and the coaches discovered that when it was really disruptive, the press actually energized the offense.