The Ramblers wrapped up their non-conference slate in Orlando this past week. They played in the Christmas Classic which was put on by the University of Central Florida. I have a big gripe about this event. Both of Central Florida’s games were streamed on ESPN+, while neither of Loyola’s games were streamed anywhere. This was despite the games being right after each other, in the same gym, and the resources were all set up to support the games being streamed! I sent an email to UCF’s Athletic Director, Director of Basketball Operations, and Strategic Communications among others to ask for a follow up last Wednesday (12/21), and I have yet to hear back.
Back to the basketball – the Ramblers played their best basketball of the season last week. They won games in back to back days against Elon and Idaho State. Their win against Elon was the largest margin of victory for them in over a year. Loyola beat Elon 72-46. Anna Brown scored a career best 19 points, including 5 three pointers and 6 rebounds. Brown also had 10 three point attempts, which was part of the game plan according to Coach Guth, “the kid [Brown] can flat out shoot it and it’s our job to create some key opportunities for her to score”. Sophia Nolan also scored 16 points. The Ramblers had a very balanced scoring attack. Their bench scored 23 points in this game led by Emma Nolan with 8 and Sitori Tanin with 7 points. The Ramblers must have enjoyed getting Tanin back from injury. She had last played two and a half weeks ago in the Ramblers win against Bradley. Tanin gives them much needed height, athleticism, and a paint presence. Loyola has won three straight games that Tanin has played in.
In the second game in Orlando, Loyola beat Idaho State 56-44. The 44 points were a season-low that the Ramblers allowed. Loyola’s defense really stepped up in Orlando. Sam Galanopoulos was the Rambler that stepped up and had a career best 18 points in the game. The Ramblers used a huge third quarter to grab a lead and not relinquish it. In the third quarter, they scored 25 points in 17 possessions. That amounts to an impressive 1.47 points per possession. Emma Nolan stepped up and had a huge game off the bench. Coach Guth told me, “It’s amazing to have Emma back and feeling healthy… She rebounded, altered our opponents shots, and caused some mismatch issues with her versatility.” She recorded her best stat line of the season. Emma scored 11 points and grabbed 8 rebounds. Loyola will need both her and her sister Sophia to step up in conference play. They both present mismatch issues and can contribute on both ends of the court.
Loyola kicks off their conference slate tonight, Wednesday Dec 28 at St. Louis University. SLU is one of the clear cut bottom five teams in the Atlantic 10. They went 4-11 in the non conference slate. The Bilikens are led by two great players: Kyla McMakin and Brooke Flowers. McMakin leads the Bilikens in scoring. She averages 17 points a game, but has rather poor efficiency numbers. She shoots 33% from the field and 28% from three point range. Flowers averages 10 points and over 4 blocks a game. She leads all of NCAAW in blocks per game. Loyola will have to key in on these two players and try not to let them beat them. Make their less used role players make shots and make plays.
The Ramblers had their best two efforts of the season leading into the conference slate. Hopefully they can ride a bit of a hot streak to start A10 play. The Ramblers will start with SLU and Richmond before they play the top 3 teams in the conference in UMass, Fordham, and Rhode Island. It’s important for the Ramblers to win these two games. I would hope that the Ramblers could avoid the “pillow fight” in the A10 tournament. The Pillow Fight is the term for the first round of the A10 tournament. This year the first round expands to 6 teams. Teams who finish seeded 10-15 would have to win 4 games just to make the Championship game. It’s a tough task. If the Ramblers could finish in the top 9 of the A10 during conference play, I think it would be a huge win for this team in the first year of the A10 and the first year with Coach Guth at the helm. It won’t be an easy task, but I do think they are better than 4 other teams so far this season. Now that they have gotten healthy, and their bench has stepped up, I think the Ramblers might be able to surprise some teams. Their toughest task is going to be to make sure they can consistently beat the teams in the bottom 4. They have 5 games against those teams: VCU, St. Bonaventure, Dayton and SLU x2. If they win those games, and surprise some of the middle teams in the conference they might find their way to an 8-8 conference record which would be seventh place in the A10 the last 3 years.