From Sheridan and Devon to the Alamo. The Final Four-bound Loyola Ramblers had their final practice at home Tuesday before leaving for San Antonio, Texas. They’ll face the 3rd-seeded Michigan Wolverines on Saturday evening in a bid to make it to Monday’s NCAA championship game.
The mood Tuesday at Loyola’s Gentile Arena was surprisingly laid back. One would never know the biggest game of these young players’ careers is on the horizon. Head coach Porter Moser admits, though, that Michigan may present somewhat of a matchup problem.
“Offensively, they’re really efficient,” Moser said. “They have shooters, they share it, they space it, Mo Vagner is a key. We just don’t see a lot of 6-foot-11-inch guys that can stretch it to 24 feet. But then, they defend. They’re one of the top defensive teams. So they’re efficient at both ends.”
Photos: Loyola fans attend a rally at Gentile Arena on Sunday, March 25, 2018.
When you look at Loyola, it’s clear they are not a big or powerful team, so they’ve had to win by playing unselfish team basketball. Moser reflected on that unique style of play that’s gotten them to this point.
“We’ve got a ton of weapons, a ton of guys that fit the system. We recruited for this. Guys find each other and they’re open. We’ve talked about spacing, and pace and space. Playing with a good pace with the space,” he said.
Through it all, Moser has managed to keep his team loose given the stakes of the games this weekend: they’ll be playing in the Alamodome, watched by tens of millions around the world – and they have a legitimate shot at winning the national championship. Moser says he’s just tried to follow the routine they’ve established over the last several weeks: film study, practice, travel, preparation and then focusing on the next opponent. But he says he doesn’t want it to be all business.
“I’ve wanted them to enjoy the journey,” Moser said. “They’ve invested; this was part of the plan when we recruited them. I wasn’t going to stop now and not let them enjoy the journey. And the reason I can do that is that they’ve been mature, locked in. Is this the highest stage? Yes it is. But when it’s time to lock in, these guys have been focused on what’s right in front of them.”
One of the players, freshman Lucas Williamson, competed for a state championship last year with Whitney Young High School, so he is used to the kind of pressure his team is under now.
“It just prepared me for a championship atmosphere, with a team with championship atmosphere, and it prepared me for us to be in this situation,” Williamson said.
And of course, we may lose sight of the fact that they are still students who had to go to class this week. Star guard Clayton Custer said he got no special treatment from professors.
“I took a test today, strategic management, a business class,” Custer said. “I hope (the professor) takes it easy on me on the grades. I think I did OK, I studied last night. I was at the library.”
On Monday we reported on the travel packages the school was offering for about $2,600 per person that included hotel and game ticket. Those are now all sold out. The tickets on resale sites are going from anywhere around $400 to $55,000.
Follow Paris Schutz on Twitter: @paschutz