A year ago, Loyola was in the midst of a 10-game losing streak and opened the season with an 1-11 record. But Saturday's 88-65 win over the University of Maryland Baltimore County gave the Greyhounds something they never got last season: their fifth victory.
The Greyhounds are 5-4 and off to their best start since the 1986-87 season, when they finished 15-14 before losing in the semifinals of their conference tournament. That was the last time Loyola had a winning season.
"I'm pretty pleased where we are," said coach Tom Schneider, who took Lehigh and Penn to the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament.
Also on the upswing is Mike Wagner. Wagner, at 6 feet 11 the tallest player in Loyola history, tied a career high with 14 points (six of seven from the field) on an array of hooks and short jumpers in the victory over UMBC.
He was a starter as a freshman, averaging 6.1 points and 4.6 rebounds. Wagner's role diminished over the past two seasons (he averaged 1.6 points and 1.3 rebounds last season). But this season he is averaging 7.2 rebounds and 4.8 points.
"He gets better every game. It's a great tribute for a kid who is a senior and could have just packed it in," Schneider said. "He's a pretty good shooter. He just needed the confidence."
* While Schneider was all smiles Saturday, UMBC coach Earl Hawkins was trying to figure the injuries that have hampered his club.
On Friday night, forward Derrick Reid, the team's leading scorer at 15.4 points, was hospitalized with an infection in his bloodstream. Already playing without starting point guard Bobby Mills (who has missed five of the eight games with a sprained ankle), the Retrievers (1-8) have had injuries to other players and are off to the worst start in school history.
"This is probably the worst I've ever experienced," said Hawkins, in his third year at UMBC. "We have just two players who have not been injured. We just have to take the guys that we have and try to make it work."
On Saturday night, Hawkins started a senior, three sophomores and a freshman against Loyola.
"I would like for us to be playing better as a team so we could at least get to know each other and develop some kind of substitution pattern," Hawkins said. "The good thing about the group is that it's young. Young guys can bounce back. If this was a senior team, it would be more difficult."
* Last season, it was a close loss to top-ranked Oklahoma in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Last week, it was a 78-73 loss to No. 3 Syracuse. While the players for Towson State are getting accolades for playing the the top teams tough, they say they don't think they'll get respect by losing such games.
Syracuse All-America forward Billy Owens apparently didn't come away from the game holding Towson in high regard.
"We played soft," said Owens. "If we go out in the Big East and play like we did [against Towson], we're going to get beat."
A victory may be the only way to gain the respect. The Tigers could get it Friday against Alabama at the Blue Angels Classic in Florida.
"We play Syracuse tough, but then we'll play bad against Navy," said guard Devin Boyd, who had 18 points and 10 assists. "Whether it's Syracuse or Gettysburg, we have to play hard. And we have to stop coming close and win one of these games."
Chuck Lightening, who scored 29 points against Syracuse, agreed.
"Someone," Lightening said, "has to feel our bite."
* Perhaps some day Loyola Marymount coach Jay Hillock will realize his players are not up to the team's trademark run-and-gun style and change his system. Until then, opponents will continue to have record-breaking games.
Georgia Tech established a scoring record in Saturday's 135-94 win over Loyola Marymount in Atlanta. And sophomore guard Kenny Anderson benefited the most, scoring a school-record 50 points on 18 of 27 shooting from the field -- including eight of 10 three-pointers.
"Kenny Anderson is truly a great player," Hillock said. "He is wonderful no matter what he does. He's as good a player as I've seen as a sophomore."
Afterward, Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins was trying to figure the Lions' style that worked well with Bo Kimble and the late Hank Gathers running it last season.
"They have a different game," Cremins said. "I've heard a lot about their style. Truthfully, they don't have the talent they had last year, but they still run the same system."
* Fifth-ranked UCLA, which had to take a 7 1/2 -hour bus ride from Minneapolis after a snowstorm canceled its flight and didn't arrive in Iowa City until Saturday morning, was tied with Iowa at 66. But the Hawkeyes outscored the visitors, 22-5, in the final 5 1/2 minutes for the win.
"You can blame it on the trip, but I don't use that," UCLA coach Jim Harrick said. "We're a day late and a dollar short. They got every board and rebound. They deserved to win."
* Game of the week (local): Two previous picks -- Clemson-Coppin State and Mount St. Mary's-James Madison -- were one-point buzzer-beaters. This week, go with Coppin State against Middle Tennessee State on Friday in the first round of the Toledo Holiday Classic. Look for the Eagles finally to beat a quality opponent.