Loyola's twin champions face rough road to repeat in MAAC


ALBANY, N.Y. -- Three weeks ago, after the Manhattan men's basketball team had disposed of Loyola, the leader of the leading team in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference assessed the Greyhounds.

"Other than Tracy Bergan and Michael Reese," said Jaspers guard Ted Ellis, "it's pretty much the same team as last year."

Which is like saying that other than Bird, Parish and McHale, the Celtics have pretty much the same front line they had in the late 1980s.

The Loyola men's and women's teams have returned to the scene of their greatest triumphs, but much has changed in the year since the teams came to the Knickerbocker Arena in Albany with little fanfare only to swagger out of town with a sweep of the MAAC titles and the college's first NCAA Division I basketball tournament bids.

The women open defense of their tournament title today (3:15 p.m.) with a quarterfinal against Siena. Loyola (17-8) has the MAAC's premier player in forward Patty Stoffey, but a midseason slide left the Greyhounds in fourth place in the eight-team conference.

The men's quarterfinals are tomorrow, and seventh seed Loyola (9-17) will face second seed Canisius, the team it upset in last year's semifinals. The Greyhounds won just one fewer game in the MAAC regular season than they did last year, but this 5-9 crew is considerably less talented than the one that went 6-8.

Bergan and Reese, two of the most gifted players to set foot on Evergreen, completed their eligibility with last year's NCAA tournament loss to Arizona. Bergan, the MVP in last year's MAAC tournament, is coaching at DeMatha High and is a part-time student at Loyola. Reese is playing professionally in Luxembourg.

Skip Prosser, who made the most of his one year in Baltimore, is the coach at No. 25 Xavier. Sophomore guard Darius Johnson, who made the three-pointer that beat Manhattan in last year's MAAC title game, left the Greyhounds in January after his dedication was questioned by Brian Ellerbe, the Greyhounds' fourth coach in three seasons.

Ellerbe brought in two transfers who will figure in the backcourt next season and signed five recruits, all 6 feet 6 or taller, this past November. The Greyhounds' play inside has been spotty this season, and Loyola has to get bigger to be a consistent factor in the MAAC.

B. J. Pendleton will take career totals of 1,437 points and 700 rebounds to Albany. The senior forward leads the Greyhounds with averages of 14.3 points and 6.6 rebounds, but he was benched in late January after a shooting slump in which he made 28.6 percent in a six-game stretch.

Freshman guard John McDonald has shown promise at the point, and Teron Owens, a 6-3 junior from Catonsville, has averaged 10.3 points since he began starting in mid-January.

The Loyola women were favored in preseason because they returned seven of the top eight players from a team that swept the MAAC regular-season and tournament titles.

Loyola got out to a 7-1 start, beating Maryland and losing only to defending NCAA champion North Carolina. But then came injuries to Patty Taylor, Denise Stuewe and Kristin Fraser, and coach Pat Coyle's team had a 6-7 stretch.

"We had never been in this position before," said Taylor, one of four senior starters. "We knew we had won the MAAC a year ago, but we didn't understand what goes into being a defending champion."

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