In the Norman stormin' track 'N' Peel-Out Playground Classic Indoor Road Race on Saturday night, Oklahoma—on the principle that it's not how fast you run, it's how long you run fast—whipped Loyola Marymount by several laps and a rather mild 352-286 score.
Only kidding, folks; the final math was in fact a trifling 136-103. So much for Division I-A's first 300-pointer, the Game of the '90s and other anticipated milestones. Nobody set any records—unless you count Sooner Mookie Blaylock's tying his own NCAA mark of 13 steals. Nobody dunked the poor, exhausted ball until, with 2:29 left, Oklahoma's Mike (Helicopter) Bell finally whirlybirded one of those all-alone gimmes. And nothing even crashed and burned—unless it was Loyola's reputation for never getting fatigued.
Remember, this was the long-awaited matchup between a pair of teams that major in Aim-'n'-Fire, the only two outfits that averaged in triple figures last season and had already driven mathematicians to eat their slide rules this year. Oklahoma had pounded out a record 87 points in one half against Oral Roberts. Loyola had nicked Azusa Pacific for a record-tying 164 over a full game. "What's Azalea Pacific?" said Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs last week.
Ay, and there was the rub. "When we go for 100, it's against good teams," said Oklahoma center Stacey King, who piled up 28 points and 23 rebounds Saturday night. "They came in here talking trash, that we couldn't push the ball and run with them. Then in the first half I thought, 'God, they're for real.' But it's like...they play without an offense."
December 26, 1988
Which made it all the more incomprehensibly fun when Loyola rallied from a nine-point deficit to go ahead 63-62 just before halftime. But Oklahoma's Tyrone Jones hit a basket before the buzzer, and the second half turned into, as Jones (33 points) said, "shooting practice" for the Sooners.
The pointathon proceeded apace, with Loyola's Jeff Fryer and Enoch Simmons (who scored 28 apiece) hurling bombs from outside and the Lions' splendid 6'7" center Hank Gathers (27 and 18 boards) burning the home team down low. But what infinitesimal strategy there was showed itself when the Sooners abandoned their helter-skelter press for a half-court man-to-man and a 6'6", shaved-head newcomer from Hutchinson (Kans.) C.C. named William Davis helped King out defensively on Gathers. Because of his smile, Davis's teammates call him Cheese. And even Gathers grinned later when he said, "Davis moved more than Stacey. And he moved me more too."
Oklahoma led 80-70 with 15:49 to go when Blaylock (12 assists to go with 31 points—"a career for me," he said) multiplied his burglaries and Davis (who didn't start but scored 21 points anyway) began collecting every loose ball and rebound. The Sooners scored 21 of the next 27 points—in just five minutes, at a 168-point clip, by the way—and the weary visitors finally succumbed.
Each team hit 10 three-pointers, but by the time Loyola reached the promised land of 100 points, with 1:28 left, Oklahoma had already thrown up 100 shots, and the Lions' coach, Paul West-head, had long since surrendered. "Blaylock is tireless, courageous," he said, shaking his vintage 1950s waved pompadour. "If you live by the run and you tire, things fall apart very fast."
Given the stakes—"bragging rights to the scoring hall of fame," King had said—Norman was beset by a puzzling ennui before the game. "We're on page 5; I'm sick of reading about Barry Sanders's trophies," grumbled Tubbs. But this was a genuine brand-name happening because of the rarity of occasions on which Loyola Marymount emerges from its tiny grotto on the outskirts of Los Angeles International Airport, from its ho-hum West Coast Athletic Conference, or from its previously steady diet in past seasons of such Division Nowhere opponents as Bemidji State, Westmont and Southern California College, which even Westhead says, "sounds like USC but it's not."
Following last season, in which the Lions won a glorious 25 straight games and led the nation with a near-record 110.3-points-per-game average (UNLV scored two tenths of a point higher in '76-77; Oklahoma averaged more than seven points lower last season), television came visiting, the schedule was beefed up, and Loyola Marymount gained a sense of self. Like: Call us by our right name, Jack, or don't call us.
This is the same school that was once known as Loyola of Los Angeles, but a merger with Marymount College in 1973 brought an instant identity crisis in the media. Loyola Marymount is too long to type repeatedly into a laptop computer. And when you're doing play-by-play—"If [Dick] Vitale were doing this one, there'd be a cosmic inversion," said ESPN announcer Roger Twibell—the Lions can rip off half a dozen treys before you can spit out all the syllables.
Nevertheless, simply Marymount will not do. In a WCAC press release last week, the conference admonished the world: "Think of it like calling an ACC school just 'Forest' or a Midwest Independent just 'Dame'.... Never leave your Dickinson without a Fairleigh."
The problem for Loyola Marymount against Oklahoma was that Gathers was without his Kimble—which is to say, a healthy Bo Kimble, the 6'5" jumper-pumping machine who has been Gathers's running and shooting buddy since the ninth grade back in Philadelphia. The pair starred as freshmen at USC and transferred together to LMU, where they have thrived on Westhead's system. Unfortunately, Bo hardly made a peep against the Sooners, his tendinitis-inflamed knee limiting him to 4-for-14 shooting in 16 minutes.
Loyola's disappointing 1-3 record has been a byproduct of Kimble's absence thus far, a dèjà vu of last season, when he missed the first six games with a stress fracture of the patella and the Lions opened 3-3. Upon Kimble's return, LMU went on that 25-0 streak, finally losing to North Carolina in the NCAA tournament in a game that answered the question. What happens when the Lions have a bad shooting night? Loyola rattled off 103 shots against the Heels; 33 went in. The Lions lost 123-97. "Yeah, we were embarrassed, but anybody'll beat us when we shoot 30 percent," says Gathers. "Nine out of 10 times we nail Carolina."
The Lions don't ever get beaten at their own game, you see; they just turn up cold. Obviously, they truly believe in their system: A) Scatter and wave for the steal, but if your man gets by, B) forget about it and let him lay it up so that C) we can grab the ball, inbound it to half court and fire from the half-moon line with the result that D) we get three while they get two and E) we win 180-120. Next?
Westhead, who is best remembered for coaching the Lakers to the 1979-80 NBA title and being fired 11 games into the 1981-82 season, has always been an educator in the truest sense. He wrote his master's thesis at Villanova on Titus Andronicus—behind his back the Lakers called him Shakespeare—and he still teaches a writing class at Loyola.
In turn, Westhead's M.O. takes its cue from Macbeth's contemplation of the murder of Duncan—"If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well it were done quickly...." The Lions try to keep possessions down to seven seconds, and the coach wants the team's fast break to start within a fourth of a second after his inbounder pulls the ball from the net. Prepping for Oklahoma, West-head was at least realistic. "We know we're walking into a trap without enough weapons," he said. "King said if Azusa got 138 on us, the Sooners would go for 180. He might be low."
Conversely, Gathers, playing the supreme Philly street woofer, said of King before the game, "He's good, not great. I don't see him playing much D, or rebounding. He's into letting up, but I don't let people let up. This is a guy I can really get into. I can make a name for myself playing against this guy."
How about it, Stacey?
"Hank should have come to Oklahoma," said the diplomatic King. "I want Loyola in the 80-90 range and us around 130. That'll look good on the rèsumè."
King was close to the mark. But was it easy? "This was a hard 30-pointer," said Tubbs. And fun? "Nawww, I like to play those walkers," said the coach. "Fun is playing Southern Utah State." Which, of course, would be the next Sooner opponent three days later. Barely enough time to recharge the calculators.