Loyola Marymount unveiled a new sixth man for the Pepperdine game Saturday night: The Fan. For the first time, a Lion basketball game sold out the 4,156-seat Gersten Pavilion. In fact the announced crowd, 4,465, was 309 over capacity. Loyola administrators had to devise a student-ticket policy to cope with the unprecedented crush.
There was good reason for the big turnout. Pepperdine is the defending West Coast Athletic Conference champ and came into the game 7-1 in the WCAC and 19-4 overall. The host Lions were 8-0 and 16-6 with a 10-game win streak on the line. But the Loyola fans, who chanted, "You're not that good!" at the Waves, more than met their match in Pepperdine's sixth man, senior Grant (Gondo) Gondrezick, kid brother of former NBA journeyman Glen. Gondo hit nine of his 12 shots for a game-high 19 points and had four assists as the Waves won going away 79-64. Once they were proved wrong. Lion fans had to listen quietly as Pepperdine's rooting section chanted, "LM—who?"
Pepperdine coach Jim Harrick congratulated his Waves for "an excellent defensive game." Marymount coach Paul Westhead concurred. "We didn't get a basket off our running game until the last 34 seconds," he said. Also, Loyola had just one basket underneath all night, a tip-in by McKenzie.
Before Saturday, the biggest events at Gersten Pavilion had been the intra-squad games of the L.A. Lakers, who practice there. Loyola hasn't won the WCAC in 25 seasons or had a winning record in 11. But with a new coach—former Laker head man Westhead—and the nation's highest-scoring backcourt in seniors Forrest McKenzie (20 points per game) and Keith Smith (23), the Lions are turning heads.
Loyola led 10-4 when the 6'5" Gondrezick, who plays all positions and averages 22 minutes a game, came off the bench. He tied the game at 12 with a baseline jumper, then gave the Waves a lead they never relinquished with a layup. Gondrezick provides timely shooting. "He's like a relief pitcher coming in," said Westhead. "Even though you know he's good, he catches you off guard a little."
"He's like John Havlicek in a way," said McKenzie. (Gondrezick is known as Gondo, but you can call him Hondo.) "To me, he should be starting. I respect him. He plays with heart." Heart and 1½ knees. After leading the Waves in scoring two years ago, Gondrezick underwent surgery on his right knee and sat out last season while his teammates won the WCAC and an NCAA berth. Harrick expects that only one WCAC team will be invited to the NCAA tournament. That berth will likely be at stake on March 5, when the Waves and Lions meet again.
Gondrezick made a strong case for winning back his starting guard position in preseason, but coach Harrick had a better idea. "Coach told me that none of them can offer as much off the bench as I can," says Gondo. "Them" is guards Dwayne Polee and Jon Korfas, forwards Eric White and Anthony Frederick and center Levy Middlebrooks, the five whom Harrick has started for 53 consecutive games.
"Sure, I'd like to be a starter," says Gondo. "But I'd like to be the sixth man on a winning team more than a starter on a loser."