Loyola defeated San Francisco 66-63 in another close game for the Ramblers. It was the fourth game this season for Loyola that was decided by five points or less.
For the Ramblers, Saturday night was another learning experience. Gutting out wins like the one over San Francisco helps a team improve its record. But even after a victory, there's the possibility to learn. Here are some important lessons and thoughts:
- Ben Averkamp played like a freshman against San Francisco. He looked unsure of himself at quite a few moments during the game. Of course then you look at his line and see 6 points, 5 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block and 2 steals, you realize he had a very nice game. He's doing a good job of leaning on the job. It's obvious that Whitesell trusts Averkamp when he's on the court. He got a lot of crunch-time minutes.
- Loyola has three streaky shooters in Geoff McCammon, Marcus Thomas and Terrance Hill. When one of them is on for a half or a game that player can carry the team. McCammon did it in the first half with 15 points on 6-7 shooting. The flip side of it though is that cold players have to back off. Hill for instance shot 3-11 from the field and scored 8 points.
- For such a high-volume shooter it would be nice if Hill went to the free throw line more. He doesn't seem to be getting calls right now, but he's deadly when he gets to the line. Whitesell picked Hill to shoot the free throws after the technical foul even though he hadn't attempted one all game.
- Having a player like Andy Polka in the front court is incredible valuable for the Ramblers. Polka had another stellar game with 13 points, 10 rebounds and 4 assists. He does more than just put up numbers though, he provides a calming presence for the offense and also plays solid post defense. Polka was also the one who noticed the extra man on the court.
- With the return of Jordan Hicks the Ramblers now have a solid 10-man rotation. The challenge for Whitesell is going to be finding minutes for all of the Ramblers. Hicks was on limited minutes during Saturday's game, but as he ramps up to full strength there are going to be players who don't play as much as they've been used to early in the season. Thomas could be one of those players. He played 10 minutes, just half his season average.
- Courtney Stanley had an up-and-down game for Loyola. He scored 7 points, dished out 7 assists, but he also committed 4 turnovers. Stanley seemed to struggle in crunch time.
- What is with the free throw shooting in the city of Chicago? The Ramblers almost gave the game away at the free throw line with 7 misses including a couple of front ends on one-and-ones. Loyola came into the game shooting 67.9% from the free throw line, which is good, but not great. The big culprit tonight was Walt Gibler. He shot 3-7 from the charity stripe.
- Loyola has made a concerted effort to schedule Jesuit schools this season playing games against three, including Saturday's opponent San Francisco, why not schedule the big catch Jesuit school, Gonzaga, for next year's West Coast road trip?
"I think Geoff's a great example of a guy that's sticking with it," Whitesell said. "He works incredibly hard. He worked really hard the last two years and he's really had two big games for us. ... To carry it over is really a compliment to how hard he works every day. He just keeps getting better and a lot of it is just a lot of hard work and taking his shot when it's available."
"You get a lot better defensively if you've got a guy that can rebound and I think that's one of the things Andy has done on a consistent basis ever since he's been at Loyola," Whitesell said. "He's always a guy that's right around 9 or 10 rebounds. ... This is a team that we were very concerned about the boards."