Tuesday, April 13, 2010
The Loyola Marymount teams of the late 1980s and early ’90s are held up as the quintessential purveyors of freewheeling basketball. Paul Westhead was able to attract supreme talents like Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble because every kid wants the latitude to gamble for steals on defense and be indiscriminate in his shot selection.
But by the 1990-’91 season, opponents had to love playing the Lions. Loyola Marymount was still reeling from the tragic death of Gathers. The galvanized good feelings from the Lions’ run to the Elite 8 in 1990 had dissipated with the departures of Kimble and Westhead and a lawsuit against the school filed by Gathers’ family. Longtime Westhead aide Jay Hillock took over as coach and stuck with the run-and-gun style even though the Lions didn’t have the talent of previous seasons. That left Loyola Marymount vulnerable to being on the wrong end of blowouts — and big games by offensive-minded guards who played in equally frenetic systems.
On Dec. 15, 1990, the Lions took on Oklahoma at the Lloyd Noble Center, where the Sooners had a 50-game home winning streak. The Sooners’ Brent Price was settling in at his home state’s flagship university after spending two seasons at the University of South Carolina. Like older brother Mark, Brent’s game was predicated on being in the right spots and hoisting classical-beauty jumpers.
Those skills served Price well against Loyola Marymount. The Lions’ full-court zone press was full of holes, so Sooners coach Billy Tubbs sent Price sprinting down court to either set up on the wings for a three-pointer or get behind the whole defense for a lay-up.
The pace was breathless from the start, and Price got the scoring going by hauling in an 80-foot inbounds pass on the wing for a three-pointer. Price scored eight of Oklahoma’s first 16 points. Hillock was intractable in sticking to the Lions’ style, and Price kept getting wide-open looks. By halftime, Oklahoma had a 79-55 lead with Price scoring 21 points (all in the first 11 minutes) and handing out seven assists. The teams combined for 107 field-goal attempts in 20 minutes.
Loyola Marymount didn’t make any strategic tweaks in the locker room, so Price was still leaking out and bombing away in the second half. The Sooners reached 100 points with 16 minutes left in the game. Price shot 20 for 33 for the game, including 11 of 19 on three-pointers. His 10th three-pointer came on a step-back fadeaway from the corner that banked in off the side of the backboard.
Price’s last basket came on a wide-open layup with three minutes left in the game, giving him 56 points and Oklahoma a 155-102 lead. The Sooners managed to hold on for a 172-112 victory, with Price also contributing nine assists and nine steals. He wouldn’t be known as Mark Price’s little brother anymore, and Brent would get drafted 32nd overall by the Washington Bullets in 1992 and play nine seasons in the NBA.
Seven days after Price’s breakout game, another offensively savvy guard — Georgia Tech’s Kenny Anderson — would put 50 points on Loyola Marymount. The system was broken, and Hillock would last only two underwhelming seasons before getting the ax and officially ending the fast-paced run of the Lions.