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Lion Hearts Soar on a Special Night at Loyola

School pays tribute to its memorable 1989-90 squad at halftime, and current team plays up to the occasion in 63-46 win over Pepperdine.

January 30, 2005|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

They still remember at Loyola Marymount, and for one night, Gersten Pavilion sounded like it was 1990 when the tiny gymnasium was rocking and the Lions were rolling.

Maybe nothing ever quite stays the same over time, and this LMU team doesn't do things in the manner of that frenetic, high-scoring squad that captured the imagination of Southern California and, through tragedy, a nation of college basketball fans. But these Lions did the older guys proud Saturday night.

On a night when the entire 1989-90 Elite Eight team was inducted into the school's hall of fame, Loyola used airtight defense to deal Pepperdine a 63-46 defeat.

It was a big night for the program all around. The Lions (10-10 overall, 2-5 West Coast Conference) stopped their five-game WCC losing streak and ended a 13-game drought against their bitter rival.

But many in the overflow sellout crowd of 4,302 were there to recognize the 15th anniversary of arguably the school's greatest athletic feat. At Loyola, the memories of that record-breaking squad led by Bo Kimble and the late Hank Gathers will be eternal.

"I hear about it all the time," guard Wes Wardrop said. "Some of my old professors would talk about what it was like back then. A lot of them haven't come back since."

The Lions that season averaged 122.4 points a game, which still stands as an NCAA Division I record, and has been eclipsed only by Division III Grinnell College in Iowa. The group was honored with a lengthy standing ovation at halftime, with Gathers' mother, Lucille Gathers-Cheeseboro, in her son's place.

"It was a unique team," said Jeff Fryer, who was the team's sharpshooting guard. "We were a fastbreaking team that scored a lot of points, which was exciting to watch. And we were successful, which I think set us apart."

Embracing a relentless up-and-down style installed by then-coach Paul Westhead, Loyola Marymount went 26-6. But the season will always be remembered for Gathers' shocking death from a heart ailment during the West Coast Conference tournament and the Lions' subsequent magical run in the NCAA tournament.

"We believed in the system," Kimble said. "For us to do it so well and better than anyone in history, what an honor.

"[Hank] would be happy. I'm sure he would be humbled by the experience. Hank lives within us for the rest of our lives and we have too many great memories to think about anything tragic."

As for Saturday's game, Loyola held Pepperdine (12-10, 2-5) to a season-low point total and a season-worst 29.6% shooting from the field. Matthew Knight led the Lions with 15 points and eight rebounds, Wes Wardrop scored 12 points and Charles Brown had 11.

Guard Brandon Worthy and forward Daryl Pegram returned from injury to spark the Lions, but Knight said the team was inspired by the presence of the '89-90 team.

"They helped us play better because we wanted to impress them," he said. "We wanted to go out there and put on a show for them."

Alex Acker had 11 points for the Waves, who lost their season-high fifth in a row. Coach Paul Westphal wasn't a fan of the festivities or the way his team played.

"LMU just outplayed us in every conceivable way," Westphal said. "I thought they played with more passion, they were better coached, [they were] more intense. I'm surprised we didn't get beat worse than we did."

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