Friday, March 18, 2011

March 18, 1990: Shooting lefty

LONG BEACH, Calif. - Bo Kimble was hurt more than most.

For sure, the death of Hank Gathers shocked and hurt most people who heard about it, or worse yet, saw it happen. It would be impossible not to be affected by that. But it was different for Kimble. He and Gathers were childhood friends from Philadelphia, had been recruited to Southern California together, had transferred to Loyola Marymount together. They had done everything together.

But now Kimble was on his own. His friend was taken from him right before his eyes. So yah, he was hurt.

And he had to do something. The Lions were just about to start an NCAA tournament run without Gathers, and as the new leader of the team, the guy everybody would be looking to to set an example, Kimble had to find some way to lead his team and honor his friend.

Then he thought of the free throws.

See, as gifted as Gathers was, he struggled with his free throws. He struggled so much, in fact, that, though normally right-handed, he tried shooting them left-handed for a while to see if that would help. So that's what Kimble did. Normally right-handed, he shot his first free-throw attempt of every 1990 NCAA tournament game left-handed, in honor of his friend.

He made them all. And he inspired. Sure, his team already had all the inspiration they needed as they played the tournament for Hank, but those free-throws just added to it. You can watch them lined up at the lane while Kimble shot, and see them pump their fists and genuinely celebrate as the free-throws went in.

Maybe that was the players' sign that Gathers was with them in those games. Who knows? Maybe the free throws had nothing to do with their run at all. But you had to believe it had some effect. After a first round defeat of New Mexico, Loyola went off in the second-round matchup against Michigan, the defending national champions. Kimble made his lefty free throw, and the Lions delivered a world-class ass kicking to the Wolverines. They played as perfect a game as they ever had, completely running Michigan off the floor. No team had ever been as inspired, as focused, as Loyola had been that day. By the time the dust settled and the scoreboard operator's fingers had finally gotten a break, the Lions were 149-115 victors and were moving on to the Sweet 16.

Look at that score again. 149-115. They let the defending national champions score 115 points, and they still beat them by 34. This coming just two weeks after their leading scorer and best friend had died in front of them. There had never been a higher scoring NCAA tournament game, and there had never been a single game that meant more to a team, to a school, to a nation.

Did they win because Bo Kimble made a free-throw left-handed? Probably not. But because of those free-throws, because of "44" memorial patches on their jerseys, the 1990 Loyola Marymount Lions will never be forgotten.

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