Loyola aims to take Va. to slow lane

March 16, 1994|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Sun Staff Writer

For 10 days now, the Loyola women's basketball team has been carrying a storehouse of pent-up energy, waiting for the curtain to rise on the women's NCAA tournament.

The Greyhounds (18-10), the first team selected for the 64-team field -- after beating Fairfield, 72-66, in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament championship -- have been waiting, and not so patiently, to make their tournament debut.

"If we had a week, that would be one thing, but I'd rather just find out who we play and just play," said Loyola coach Pat Coyle. "It's so much time to think. I'd just as soon just play."

It's finally show time, and the Greyhounds -- who have a school-record nine-game winning streak -- have a Herculean task on their hands tonight when they face Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season champion Virginia (25-4), the region's third seed, a first-round game at University Hall in Charlottesville, Va.

"In two weeks time, this team [Loyola] has gotten a lot better," said Coyle. "They're playing with a lot more confidence. It's been good to enjoy what they've accomplished, but I know they want something more."

The Cavaliers, who went 15-1 in ACC play only to lose, 77-60, in the tournament final to North Carolina, represent a pretty significant obstacle toward getting something more.

They have not lost at home in 39 games, dating to January 1992, when then-third-ranked Maryland beat then-No. 1 Virginia, 67-65.

The mark is a school record and is almost as daunting a figure for Loyola as Virginia's average attendance figure of 4,457. The Cavaliers are expecting at least that many tonight in the first of what they hope will be two home games this week before they can advance to next week's regionals in Fayetteville, Ark.

"We played in front of a lot of people last year in the [MAAC] semifinals against Siena," Coyle said. "I don't think the crowd will affect us. It's not like they're right on the court. We're going to go in and do what we need to do."

To do that, and pull off perhaps the biggest upset in the 13-year history of the women's tournament, the Greyhounds, who have lost five previous meetings to ACC foes, will have to force Virginia into a decidedly slower tempo.

"We'll try and make it a half-court game," said Coyle.

Virginia has a fine inside-outside combination of sophomore center Wendy Palmer and freshman guard Tora Suber, and stopping them will be Loyola's first chore.

Palmer, who averages 16.9 points and 10.0 rebounds, was a first-team All-ACC selection and is one of the best low-post players in the nation. Suber, the ACC Freshman of the Year, moved into the starting lineup in late December and promptly established herself as the heir to the legacy of former Cavalier Dawn Staley, the two-time national Player of the Year.

In addition, the Cavaliers play exceptional team defense, limiting opponents to 62.6 points per game. No foe has shot better than 41 percent.

They are expected to run two of their best man-to-man defenders, junior forwards Amy Lofstedt and Charleata Beale, at Loyola's Patty Stoffey, the nation's second-leading scorer, making it imperative for forward Camille Joyner, a second-team All-MAAC choice, and guards Mary Thompson and Coleen Colsher to improve their production.

Lofstedt, who hadn't been considered a top defender earlier in the year, improved her credentials substantially by limiting Maryland's Bonnie Rimkus to eight shots and no points in Virginia's 63-45 win in the ACC semifinals.

The Cavaliers, of course, are not invulnerable. Their weaknesses -- inconsistent outside scoring and the failure to develop more scorers to help Palmer and Suber -- were exposed in the North Carolina game and could cost Virginia a chance to get to the women's Final Four, just down Interstate 64 in Richmond, Va., April 2-3.

"We will either play great or we're going to fold," said Lofstedt. "I think we'll accept the challenge."

Said Virginia coach Debbie Ryan: "All year long, we've had the goal of getting to Richmond. That's been an important carrot for us. That has not changed, but anybody who looks beyond this game is crazy. At this point, you never know what's going to happen."

LOYOLA (18-10) at VIRGINIA (25-4)

Site: University Hall, Charlottesville, Va.

Time: 7:30 tonight

Radio: None

Regional/seedings: Mideast. Loyola, No. 14; Virginia, No. 3

What Loyola needs to do to win: The Greyhounds have to keep the tempo as slow as possible, keeping the Cavaliers from turning the game into a track meet. F Patty Stoffey (26.5) will need to have her usual game, but she'll need help from three-point shooters Mary Thompson and Coleen Colsher. Loyola will have to find a way to control Virginia post players Wendy Palmer and Jeffra Gausepohl, probably by playing a collapsing zone that dares the Virginia guards to shoot over it. They'll also need to block out the often rowdy University Hall crowd that has helped the Cavaliers win 39 straight at home.

What Virginia needs to do to win: The Cavaliers need to shake off the emotional residue of their Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final loss to North Carolina. G Tora Suber, the ACC Freshman of the Year, should return to form and could put up big numbers against the slower Loyola guards. Virginia only plays eight players regularly and could be vulnerable to foul trouble, but the team's physical superiority should be a big advantage. If F Amy Lofstedt has difficulty guarding Stoffey, F Charleata Beale, one of the nation's best man-to-man defenders, should take up the slack.

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