Some of the definitions of the word "great" -
"Remarkable or outstanding in magnitude, degree or extent.
"Of outstanding significance or importance.
"Superior in quality or character."
The term "great" has been passed around a lot in regard to a basketball game that was played 20 years ago today before a packed house at the then LSU Assembly Center and a national television audience on CBS.
It was No. 14 LSU versus No. 20 Loyola Marymount University. The date was Feb. 3, 1990.
Now why would a game against Loyola Marymount be so important? For those too young to remember, LMU would certainly not be considered in the elite of college basketball in 2010. There are a lot of circumstances that have contributed to that and there were a lot of circumstances some that might seem a little strange in this day and age that contributed to this game being a classic.
After winning a title with the Los Angeles Lakers and a short unsuccessful stint in Chicago, Paul Westhead took over as the head coach of the Loyola Marymount team. He turned LMU into an NCAA power with teams going 27-3, 20-10 and 23-5. He lured players like Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble, who both transferred from nearby USC and rewrote the NCAA record books with Loyola-Marymount's famous up-tempo, run-and-gun-style.
So coming to Baton Rouge was a team averaging 121 points a game, but giving up 108 a game, something the Southeastern Conference teams had no experience with. But LSU with sophomore Chris Jackson, twin towers Stanley Roberts and Shaquille O'Neal, Vernel Singleton, Maurice Williamson, Wayne Sims, Randy Devall and Harold Boudreaux as the main players in a star-studded lineup could surely match up.
But Coach Dale Brown wanted to do more. He liked Westhead's style of coaching and he wasn't about to try to slow LMU down. In fact, he wanted to run as fast or faster as Loyola and beat them at their own game. Crazy? Crazy like a fox. For two days, after a win at Ole Miss on Wednesday night, the Tigers practiced running faster and faster up and down the court with the ball trying to perfect the Westhead style. This was now the LSU style. LSU might not shoot it in the four or five seconds that Westhead wanted his team to, but the shot clock operator in the days of the 45-second clock was going to have the easiest afternoon he could possibly have.
Would LSU be able to adjust? Would the Tigers be out of breath? Could LSU's big centers keep up? Would the game be a farce?
Let's see the answers would be yes, no, definitely and it wasn't a farce, it was a classic. How would the LMU adjust to seeing a mirror image of themselves, they would just go faster. To try to do a play-by-play recap of this game would be impossible but if you want to sit back and have just a lot of fun watching basketball, clink on the accompanying link to watch this game.
My first impression when I sat down to watch the game last week for the first time since I did one of our series of memorable moments on Coach Brown's old TV show about this game was how young and different a lot of people looked. Some of the people on the scorer's table are still around today and they were much younger with a lot bigger hair in those days. I'm sure Pauline Zernot, the cheerleader coach would love to have her present group of cheerers take a look at her and some of her colleagues, circa 1990.
The crowd of over 14,000 sensed this might be a special day (or as Scooter Hobbs of the Lake Charles paper wrote - "It was a strange crowd that showed up in LSU's playpen Saturday. They came to root for the home team, of course, but they also showed up with an almost morbid curiosity to see the Marymount toy, sort of like gawkers at the state fair lining up to see the three-headed calf."). They were loud and vocal from the beginning. The teams came out missing at the start but you were starting to get the idea that LMU could run and run and they could play defense with traps all over the floor. You also were amazed that LSU was seriously going to try to keep up, if they didn't turn it over a hundred times on the press. But early on if LMU got to the goal, there was Shaq to block the shot.
So as the game settled in, the points began to come...A layup on one end and before Dan Borne could yelp that someone scored, the other team would beat the press and hit a three on the other end. LSU would lead, LMU would lead. The coaches were working the officials. The crowd was urging LSU on.
Scorer Al Toups was just trying to keep up and as he would suddenly realize in the final 10 minutes of regulation, the scorebook only went to 114 points on the running score. Al had to manually add another line that went to 150. He almost needed all of it.
"It certainly lived up to its billing as an offensive run and gun spectacle," said Toups, who continues his role as LSU's official scorer for men's basketball games. "Our shot clock operator's thumb had to be sore because he had to reset the shot clock every six or seven seconds ... No need to worry about any violations. Ernest Boutte' was on scoreboard and playing it like a video game. The scoring was so fast and furious back and forth, at one stretch in the second half I literally did not have time to look up from the scorebook to observe the action. Instead, I had to listen to Dan Borne's PA announcements to be able to record the scoring. We were all physically and emotionally drained after the game. We were kind of sitting there silently in disbelief at what we had just seen."
Jim Hawthorne, working on air solo in those days, was also trying to keep up with all the action and keep his own score at the same time. To his credit he was there basket after basket play after play. You'll hear his call on our on-line video replay, but Jim Brown, Quinn Buckner and even the cameramen for CBS were struggling to keep up with a memorable game and still get in promos and commercial breaks.
"The LSU-Loyola Marymount game will always be one of the most memorable that I have had the pleasure of broadcasting," said Hawthorne. "The pace was so fast it was difficult to keep my scorebook up to date. It was the highest scoring game in the history of LSU basketball and the Tigers did win in overtime. That and the quality of basketball that was played by both teams makes this game one the likes of which those that were lucky enough to be there will probably never see again."
But the legend of the game grew in the final four minutes of the first half when a ruckus broke out at the table near the LMU bench where Debi Polito sat typing the play-by-play on an electric typewriter in the days before computer stats. The typewriter literally couldn't keep up with the pace she was trying to tab and type shots and scores and lineups, etc. The motor in the typewriter literally burned up. Watch about the four minute mark of the first half on the tape, you'll see a crowd at the end of the table, you'll see me leaving on the run to the other side of the arena and on the wide shot, you'll see several of us running up the southwest tunnel to get another typewriter to replace the now expired machine.
What was amazing to relive was how leads just seemed to evaporate in an instant. LSU was up 14 by outscoring LMU, 72-58, in the first half. But after just 1:46 of the second half the lead was down to four. LSU had a 10-point lead with 4:27 to go in the game, LMU cut it to two with 3:31 left - that's right less than 60 seconds.
Some other moments to watch -
- Maurice Williamson get whacked in the nose with a back handed slap, more than likely inadvertent, in the second half that sent him sprawling to the floor and bringing Coach Brown in a not happy mood to the floor, resulting in a technical.
- Chris Jackson somewhere in the game got a black eye.
- Shaq taking a charge without falling down. Heck, he never even moved. The guy who charged like, bounced off of him.
- The confusion that could have been costly when Chris Jackson fouled out fairly early in overtime. It appears no one on the bench seemed to mark down Jackson's fourth foul with about 30 seconds left in what would be regulation. Then when he fouled in overtime, he was gone despite arguments by the coaches that the scoring was wrong. In this instance, there was no mistake; Jackson was gone with his team high 34 points, none in the extra session.
- The two things from the overtime - LSU was actually down four points as Gathers scored the first four points for LMU before LSU took over. Also, the pace of the overtime was so much slower than the first 40 minutes of the game. Could have been fatigue, but LSU was definitely trying to slow the pace when the Tigers got the lead.
- If there was any doubt big guys could play this style, just look at O'Neal and Roberts. Before the overtime, Gathers told the media afterwards that he told Shaquille, "This is going to be five minutes of war. You'd better be ready." He was and they both were. O'Neal finished with 20 points, 24 rebounds and a then SEC record 12 blocks. Roberts made all 10 of his field goal attempts and finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds.
What's even more ridiculous are the numbers on the box score and you looked at them and
wondered if it was all real. 289 points on 211 shots from the field and 60 free throws. 45 three point attempts by LMU, 65 rebounds by LSU, 33 LSU assists, four over 20 points for LSU.
Bo Kimble had 32 points for LMU, three under his nation leading scoring average and Gathers, oh my goodness, 48 points shooting left and right, but shooting free throws left handed. Notice that if you will. Not many did that day. But this is where the story 20 years later takes a sad, sad turn.
No one knew when they left the PMAC that on a national stage we were seeing one of the last outstanding performances of this talented player. It would be one month and a day, March 4, 1990, that he would slam dunk on one end in a tournament game, move toward half court and collapse and die of a heart attack. That's why when you watch this tape, be amazed at a man playing this type of game, this type of style with a heart condition that would cause him to lose his life one month later.
Westhead would go on to the Denver Nuggets where his run and score system just didn't take hold. He got back in college coaching at George Mason and the team came to Baton Rouge and again it was another run and gun affair but LSU had much more talent and won easily. Westhead would win a title in the WNBA and now is in his first year as head coach of the Oregon women's team.
Brown would coach the Tigers for another seven years through his 25th season, ending his career with close to 450 wins, second only to Adolph Rupp at an SEC school. The very next year, the team would give Brown his fourth SEC championship to go with his two Final Four appearances.
Preparing for our matchup with Loyola Marymount was difficult because they were leading the nation in scoring and our staff felt they were the best conditioned team in the country," Brown recalled recently. "Sitting on the bench watching this ping-pong match I was fatigued after our victory. A great number of fans and pundits consider this the most entertaining college game of all time."
People still talk about the game and the things that happened in the Assembly Center that day. No one has forgotten about it even these 20 years later. Maybe that's the reason many call it the greatest game played in the building. No doubt whether you think it was the greatest game in the building or in LSU basketball history, it is a game that provides an interesting perspective of a basketball style that has disappeared into the recent history of the game. Hope you enjoy watching it again.