Ariz.'s 1st-round KOs punch up 'Hound hopes LOYOLA

March 14, 1994|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Staff Writer

Since the NCAA tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, one team has dealt with the ignominy of being upset not once, but twice, by a team seeded near the bottom of the draw.

Loyola, meet Arizona.

If the Greyhounds' worst-to-first saga in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference is a story of a team fulfilling its potential, the Wildcats have written the book on underachieving in the NCAAs. When they meet Friday in a first-round game at the Arco Arena in Sacramento, Calif., Arizona will be seeded No. 2 and Loyola No. 15 in the West Region.

The Wildcats players are off limits until Thursday's news conferences, because coach Lute Olson doesn't want them answering questions about their failures of the past two years.

In 1992, Arizona was seeded third in the Southeast Regional, but it lost in the first round to No. 14 East Tennessee State. Last year, the Wildcats drew the No. 2 position in the West, only to lose to Santa Clara, a small Jesuit school that was seeded No. 15.

The description of Santa Clara fits Loyola (17-12), which needed three upsets to win the MAAC tournament and its first trip to the NCAA Division I tournament. St. Peter's, Canisius and Manhattan aren't the caliber of the Pac-10 Conference regular-season champion Wildcats (25-5), but the Greyhounds defied too many obstacles last weekend in Albany, N.Y., to be an afterthought in Arizona's preparation.

"Who does the winner of our game get in the second round?" one Loyola assistant asked as the selection show wound down, and he wasn't being facetious.

First-year coach Skip Prosser, his staff and players got the news in the relative tranquility of the Sellinger Lounge, while approximately 1,000 supporters watched the big screens set up in McGuire Hall, where the Greyhounds played before Reitz Arena opened in 1984. There have been home games since when Loyola wished it had as large and vocal a following.

"It's great to see the campus this electric," Prosser said.

Four of Loyola's top eight players grew up inside the Capital Beltway, but the Greyhounds celebrated for the second time in seven days when they learned they were going to California.

"I was home today [in Lanham], and everybody I ran into was hoping we would go to the Nassau Coliseum or the USAir Arena," said Tracy Bergan, the senior point guard who was the MVP of the MAAC tournament. "We wanted to go someplace new, we want the full experience. This team is jacked."

Bergan worried aloud about the Greyhounds not having any fans with them, but Arizona won't have an advantage. The Friday-Sunday sub-regional in Sacramento has been sold out since last May, and each of the eight teams has been allotted 300 tickets for Friday. The impartial crowd could warm to the Greyhounds, much the way the fans at Austin, Texas, backed Towson State when it challenged Oklahoma in 1990.

Bergan and Michael Reese, the seniors whose absence last year led to the 2-25 record, and junior forward B. J. Pendleton were key ingredients two years ago, when the Greyhounds opened the season in a tournament at Stanford, then played at Loyola-Marymount. When Prosser was an assistant at Xavier, the Musketeers won a tournament at the University of San Francisco.

All of that is irrelevant to Prosser, who warned his team that it isn't on a sightseeing tour.

"The guys like to get on a plane," Prosser said. "They see we're playing in California and they start thinking palm trees, but they don't realize that where we're playing, when we're playing, is not that big a deal. All they're going to be seeing when we get there is the gym and the inside of a hotel."

Prosser, who was hired last April and engineered the best turnaround in the nation, let the Greyhounds enjoy their accomplishment for two days, then "brought them back down to earth" in practice last Thursday.

Loyola must deal with an Arizona team that had an eight-game win streak stopped at arch-rival Arizona State two days ago, a loss that might have cost the seventh-ranked Wildcats a No. 1 seed. They are rapped for being soft inside, but in Khalid Reeves and Damon Stoudamire, the Wildcats have one of the best guard tandems in the nation.

"Arizona has great guards," Prosser said. "They're a good team, or we wouldn't be playing them."

The No. 15 seed is the lowest for the MAAC champion since Fairfield, the seventh-place team in the regular season, upset its way through the conference tournament and drew a No. 16 seed in 1987.

It played eventual champion Indiana in the first round. The MAAC representative was seeded as high as No. 4 in 1990, when La Salle revolved around Lionel Simmons.

ARIZONA (25-5)

106 .. .. .. .. ...Baylor .. .. .. .. ....79

93 .. .. .. .. .. .St. Joseph's .. .. ....73

97 .. .. .. .. .. .Okla.St. .. .. .. .. ..84

88 .. .. .. .. .. .at Utah .. .. .. .. .. 81

80 .. .. .. .. .. .New Orleans .. .. .. ..62

89 .. .. .. .. .. .Santa Clara .. .. .. ..63

98 .. .. .. .. ....NotreDame-x .. .. .. ..79

70 ... .. .. .. ...Boston Col.-x .. .. ...65

92 .. .. .. .. .. .Kentucky-x .. .. .. ...93

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