Tour­na­ment trip de­fines turn­around un­der Pat­sos

The Washington Times Daily - - Life - BY PA­TRICK STEVENS

BAL­TI­MORE | As the crowd at Reitz Arena cheered when Loy­ola pre­dictably popped up on a big screen dur­ing the NCAA tour­na­ment se­lec­tion show Sun­day, coach Jimmy Pat­sos got to work.

He quickly scrib­bled a small chart. In one box was his Grey­hounds’ meet­ing with Ohio State. In the other was the matchup be­tween Gon­zaga and West Virginia.

That’s the only con­cern for the Metro At­lantic cham­pi­ons, the lone team from the state of Mary­land to earn a place in the field.

“It’s ge­nius,” said Pat­sos, who said broad­caster Jay Bi­las told him ear­lier this sea­son it was the ap­proach Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski takes to the tour­na­ment.

“Krzyzewski says to the play­ers ‘This is all you have to worry about. The most things we can con­trol in the next week are beat­ing Ohio State and play­ing the win­ner of West Virginia-gon­zaga.”

That’s eas­ier said than done for the Grey­hounds (24-8), who were a No. 15 seed in their only pre­vi­ous ap­pear­ance in the tour­na­ment. Loy­ola will face the sec­ond-seeded Buck­eyes (27-7) on Thurs­day in Pitts­burgh. Else­where in the re­gion:

Virginia landed in the field for the first time in three sea­sons un­der coach Tony Ben­nett. The Cava­liers (22-9) were be­set by in­juries down the stretch, yet they still col­lected a No. 10 seed, and will face Florida in Omaha, Neb., on Fri­day.

Join­ing the Cava­liers in the West Re­gional is Mid-east­ern Ath­letic champ Nor­folk State (25-9), which earned the No. 15 seed. The Spar­tans, who are mak­ing their first NCAA ap­pear­ance, will face sec­ond-seeded Mis­souri on Fri­day.

Virginia Com­mon­wealth, the Colo­nial Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion cham­pion and a Final Four team a year ago, earned a No. 12 seed in the South bracket and was shipped to Port­land, Ore. The Rams (28-6) will face fifth­seeded Wi­chita State, which won the Mis­souri Val­ley reg­u­lar-sea­son ti­tle, on Thurs­day.

Back at Loy­ola, the se­lec­tion show was the cul­mi­na­tion of per­haps the most sat­is­fy­ing week of Pat­sos’ ten­ure. He in­her­ited a 1-27 team af­ter a long stint as an as­sis­tant at Mary­land and set about to re­build a pro­gram in tat­ters.

It took eight years, but the Grey­hounds clinched their berth with a 4844 vic­tory over Fair­field in the MAAC ti­tle game. Then came a whirl­wind week as the re­al­ity of hit­ting the big time set in.

“It’s been crazy,” ju­nior guard Robert Ol­son said. “I’ve been try­ing to be a lit­tle sub­dued, be­cause we’ve had four or five days off and we got so ex­cited Mon­day when we won, we’ve just been try­ing to calm down and fo­cus on prac­tic­ing and get­ting ready for who­ever we were go­ing to play. Tonight was crazy. I was ner­vous at ev­ery se­lec­tion. When we fi­nally got in­tro­duced, I didn’t know what to think.”

Now, the Grey­hounds can move along to pre­par­ing for their sub­re­gional. Loy­ola al­ready is fa­mil­iar with elite tal­ent, hav­ing played at Ken­tucky ear­lier this sea­son. And land­ing a game within driv­ing dis­tance is a boon for a school that’s grad­u­ally fos­tered more ex­cite­ment for its bas­ket­ball pro­gram un­der Pat­sos.

As for Ohio State and star cen­ter Jared Sullinger, he’s a big part of Loy­ola’s nar­row con­cen­tra­tion, though the Grey­hounds don’t plan to be in­tim­i­dated.

“I just see him as an­other player,” said se­nior Shane Walker, who be­gan his ca­reer at Mary­land. “You can’t go into a game scared. We’re go­ing in to try to play and try and win the game. Ev­ery game we play, we try to win the game. This is no dif­fer­ent for us.”

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