three weeks of passion-wrenching scenes, Loyola Marymount, the little team that
ran the socks off nearly everyone, got run out of the Oakland Coliseum on
Sunday by the bigger, stronger, faster and, yes, even better-conditioned
Runnin' Rebels of UNLV, a team that did everything the Lions did, only better.
But no one need think that Loyola Marymount's fallen leader, Hank Gathers, who
had collapsed and died of heart failure in a game just 22 days earlier, might
be dishonored by the 131-101 blowout. The hustling, hardscrabble Vegas
crew—whose remarkable forward tandem of Stacey Augmon and Larry Johnson
combined for 53 points and 29 rebounds—beat the Lions at their own game.
with Gathers in the lineup, also lost to UNLV in the regular season, back on
Nov. 15. At the end of that 102-91 rout, during which nasty words between the
teams were exchanged, a furious Gathers, who had a solid 18 points and 11
rebounds, stormed toward the UNLV bench, beckoning one and all to come and get
it. Later, Rebel coach Jerry Tarkanian came to the visitors' locker room to
apologize for the behavior of his players. Ever the gallant warrior, Gathers
sat on a bench and said softly, "Maybe we'll see them again
So it was that
pathos pervaded the West Regional, where Gathers's brave, brokenhearted
teammates pressed on without him. Suddenly they were celebrities—Bo Kimble and
Jeff Fryer shooting three-pointers on The Arsenio Hall Show—but, said guard Tom
Peabody, "for all the wrong reasons. Hank had to die for us to come into
In addition to
speaking of the emotional surge driving his team, Loyola coach Paul Westhead
acknowledged a terrible group fear, not so much of losing in the tournament but
of finishing it. Measuring his words, Westhead said, "Basketball is the
easy part. We all know, when this is over we are going to have to face Hank's
death again—and there won't be the games to fall back on."
The day before
the final, Westhead reviewed a tape of his team's earlier loss to the Rebs at
UNLV. Gathers was everywhere. "There was some great stuff," Westhead
said, his eyes moistening. He considered asking his players if they wanted to
view the tape, but he never did. "I may have made a technical mistake,"
he said. "But I know I did the right thing for them."
Neither UNLV nor
Loyola made it to their reunion easily. The Rebels, who barely escaped Ball
State 69-67 in one semifinal, were called "thugs" by Cardinals coach
Dick Hunsaker, who apparently didn't appreciate his own trash-talker, Paris
McCurdy, being taunted in return. In an earlier round, McCurdy had yapped so
much at Oregon State's major-mouth, Gary Payton, that Payton had requested help
from the referee. The colloquial Card stated his philosophy: "I try to put
them to the test with my talking," McCurdy said. "They get to a point
where they want to bust me in the mouth."
enough, the Rebs nearly did after Ball State's Mike Spicer short-armed a lob
pass in the lane as the Cards' final bid for the upset disappeared. A circle of
UNLV players surrounded McCurdy as the teams filed to the locker rooms; they
weren't singing I Love Paris in the Springtime either.
keep it [the talking] to basketball," Loyola's Chris Knight observed.
"Vegas is like, "Where's your mother? I think she's in my room.'
They're dirtier. They're funnier."
Lions needed their previously unrecognized poise and patience to fend off
Alabama 62-60 in the other semi. Loyola prevailed, even though the Crimson
Tide—surely the best-coached team in the tournament courtesy of Wimp ("I
was named that before anybody knew what one was") Sanderson—outshot and
outrebounded the Lions and slowed their high-powered, 122-points-per-game
offense to a virtual crawl.
shaken up by Gathers's death? "Aww, man," said Tide forward Robert
Horry. "He played on the West Coast. We're an East Coast team. No