Is Loyola Marymount going to make another improbable run at the West Coast Conference tournament?
Last year, the Lions won three tournament games after finishing last in the regular season with a 1-15 record. They beat Portland, San Francisco and Santa Clara before getting blown out by Gonzaga in the semifinals.
Thursday night, the last-place Lions were at it again, knocking off No. 7 seed Portland 67-64 behind 14 points apiece by Anthony Ireland and Nick Stover. At least this year LMU won four league games, including its first two.
Next up for LMU: No. 2 seed BYU.
The Lions and Cougars split their regular-season games, with LMU winning 87-76 in Los Angeles in late December and BYU getting big-time revenge 91-68 in Provo.
BYU coach Dave Rose held his weekly press briefing on Thursday afternoon before practice, and I asked him which opponent — Portland or LMU — that BYU matches up against. He said both squads have their strong points.
“Loyola Marymount is very athletic,” Rose said. “They turn you over. They lead the league in steals, and that’s what they try to do is turn you over. There are kinda issues on both sides.”
Here are more of Rose’s comments as the Cougars prepared for Saturday’s 3 p.m. MST quarterfinal:
On Kyle Collinsworth’s health:
“He’s been good. He has had a good week of practice. That first week after was a pretty touch and go situation, but he feels good and I think he is ready for three or four games in three or four days. Hopefully we can get to that.”
On his big decisions this season and how rewarding it is to him that the moves he has made have paid off:
“I don’t think they have all paid off. We have had quite an interesting season. But there is so much credit that goes to these players. I think that Matt Carlino especially early in the season when we made the decision to bring him off the bench, how he responded to that and how well he’s played in that role I think has made a lot of the other decisions we have made much easier, because you’ve got your captain, your leader, a guy who was really out front, who has continued to play well in a different role. I think that set the example for everyone.”
On whether they’ve changed their pre-conference tourney routine after going 1-2 at the WCC tourney the past two years:
“No, I think it has been pretty similar. There are a couple more days this year in preparation. I think we are a little more healthy this year, with this week of practice. I think it has been pretty similar. I think the last couple of weeks this season have been different, just because of the amount, with the 10 scholarship players that we are playing with, and the other three scholarship players that practice every day, we let them suit up and dress with us.
That’s changed some of our approach, where we don’t really field two full teams in practice every day. That’s made a little bit of a difference. Other than that, it has been similar.”
On new guys like Eric Mika getting a taste of conference tournaments:
“These tournaments, they are really different than a normal regular season game. Hopefully these young guys, the four or five new guys that we have that will see time in this thing will be able to catch on really quickly, because there is a lot of emotion, a lot of urgency, a lot of energy. It is pretty intense. It is great. It is what guys look forward to.”
On whether he played in Kansas City tourney to get ready for this:
“The back to back nights that you play, you learn a lot about your team in that situation. We have done it for quite a few years now. I think they are good for your guys, early in the year.”
On getting a day off if they win Saturday and that impact:
“We will see. Hopefully we get a chance to kind of get to that point and then see how it feels. I know the Monday night games we have played this year have had a pretty good feel to them. The Stanford game was a Monday night game, and it was good to us. The Pepperdine game was a Monday night game. I thought we played well; we didn’t win. They played well. So we will kind of … The Texas game was a Monday night game, too. So we will see.”
On Luke Worthington’s emergence:
“I think he has done a really good job in his commitment to the game plan, to what he can really do specifically to help us in certain areas on the floor. Defense and rebounding and being a post presence defensively in there. Offensively he has blossomed into his own player.
I think the real key for him for our team is the minutes he can give us as a defensive presence, and in executing our game plan.”
On where he would put this season among his coaching jobs after nine years:
“I am glad I don’t have to do that, OK. You can do that, if you want. But I am proud of our guys. This has been a challenge, a real challenge with the schedule, the early season schedule we played really good teams, and we were in all the games, and had a chance to win them, except for a few. And when you don’t win, you gotta dig deep and find out where you are going to go, and what you are going to do, and this group has come together pretty well.”