Loyola embarks on salvage mission

Tourney run could ease pain of team's 7-20 mark, bolster Gaudio's status

Metro Atlantic

March 03, 2000|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

When the Loyola men's basketball team starts play in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament today in Albany, N.Y., it does so as the league's ninth-place team, matched against eighth-seeded Canisius in a 4: 45 p.m. game.

Still, third-year coach Dino Gaudio's enthusiasm seems infectious, in spite of the hurdles his team has tried to clear during a 7-20 season that includes a 4-14 MAAC mark.

"We've always won the first-round game, then come within an eyelash of beating a pretty good team," said Gaudio, whose team nearly upset eventual NCAA qualifiers Iona and Niagara in successive MAAC tournaments. "Any time you can get that first win, it gives you tremendous confidence."

In the past two seasons, however, Loyola teams had combined to win 11 of their last 18 games heading into the tournament, disguising underachievement as a promising segue to the next November.

This season, the dismissal of star player Jason Rowe, plus the knee injury and eventual transfer of Clifford Strong -- combined with some shaky basketball -- has produced one Greyhounds win over the past 11 games.

Despite the poor showing in a season in which Loyola was expected to challenge for the MAAC crown, Gaudio and athletic director Joe Boylan say the coach will be back. Rev. Harold Ridley, school president and the one who released men's soccer coach Bill Sento, hasn't commented on the matter.

"Any speculation at this point would be just that," Loyola spokesman Mark Kelly said. "The season is still under way. Dino Gaudio is still our coach."

Gaudio frets instead over a decent ending for seniors Blanchard Hurd and Jerome Adams, who had hoped for better results.

"I don't feel any pressure, but I want so much for these guys," Gaudio said. "I feel so bad for the seniors. These guys are still standing amid the whirlwind."

Hurd earned third-team all-conference honors after averaging 14.6 points and 6.8 rebounds.

Canisius (9-19) offers Loyola a unique opportunity of another bright beginning, as one of the Greyhounds' three victims since January. In a rematch in Buffalo, the Greyhounds stayed close before falling.

Gaudio was encouraged by a local newspaper account that said the Golden Griffins' effort "might have been the best game they've played this year."

"And we were right there with a minute to go," Gaudio said. "But they did a great job of shooting the ball from three-point range."

Preparation for the tournament rematch has gone so well that a scheduled 75-minute session ran to 100 minutes on Tuesday, with the court still seen as a place where the team can block out the distractions.

"Our confidence is down, but we've talked about everyone being 0-0," Gaudio said. "It doesn't matter where we're playing or who we're playing."

Women

Like the men, the Loyola women are hoping that an opening-day win can shoot them toward a solid performance overall in the MAAC tournament.

The sixth-seeded Greyhounds (11-16) open at 2: 30 this afternoon against Niagara (14-13), a team it also split with. The loss came first, 68-61, on Jan. 9 in Buffalo. The win, 81-72, came at home Feb. 12.

Despite the higher score in the second game, second-year coach Cindy Anderson said the difference was that Loyola kept Niagara from running as it did in the first meeting.

"We took away a lot of their transition and kept it a half-court game," she said. "That's what we'll continue to do."

This season's team -- looking for its eighth straight semifinal appearance -- features six freshmen who improved during the season while taking their cues from upperclassmen like Erica Rath, Jennifer Bongard and Shannon Cohen.

Loyola has won three of its past five games, and a 68-61 loss to defending MAAC champion and current contender St. Peter's was the only blemish in the past three games.

As a rookie coach, Anderson took a team to last year's tournament with only one player lost from the season before. Now, more experienced as a coach but with a younger team, she doesn't anticipate much change other than the step down from last year's third seed, "which doesn't matter."

"It's about equal. Last year's team had been to a championship game and to a semifinal," she said. "I'm looking for the upperclassmen to [emerge] and take the team on their shoulder."

MAAC men

When: Today-Monday

Where: Pepsi Arena, Albany, N.Y.

TV: None

Radio: None

Defending champion: Siena

Favorite: Siena. The Saints made the NCAA tournament last year and won the regular-season MAAC title this year. Look for the march to continue.

Dark horse: Fairfield. The Stags have won three of their past five games and feature Darren Philip, the nation's top rebounder (14.0) who also scores 16 points a game.

MVP candidate: Tariq Kirksay, Iona. The Gaels are considered the most talented team in the MAAC, and Kirksay is the most gifted Gael, winning conference Player of the Year honors with 19.4 points and 9.4 rebounds a game.

MAAC women

When: Yesterday-Sunday

Where: Pepsi Arena, Albany, N.Y.

TV: None

Radio: None

Defending champion: St. Peter's

Favorite: St. Peter's. Aside from her team, of course, this is the team that Loyola coach Cindy Anderson would pick to win, even over regular-season titlist Fairfield.

Dark horse: Loyola. Though the team is fairly green, it has enjoyed a relatively solid season despite a 1-6 December. Greyhounds have won three of their past five and came within a basket of beating St. Peter's.

MVP candidate: Gail Strumpf, Fairfield. Others may emerge, but with a 20.1 scoring average, 11.8 rebounds a game and 2.2 blocks a game, Strumpf deserves the benefit of the doubt. -- Christian Ewell

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