The Heart of a Lion Stops
On March 4, 1990, 11th ranked Loyola Marymount University (23-5) faced Portland (10-17) in the West Coach Conference tournament. The team, which ran on Coach Paul Westhead’s famous run-and-gun system, averaged an NCAA record 122.4 point per game.
It was led by two high-school classmates from Philadelphia guard Bo Kimble who led the NCAA in scoring with 35.3 game and center Hank Gathers who was averaging 29 points and 10.8 rebounds per game. (Gathers had led the NCAA in both categories the year before.)
Earlier in the season Gathers scored 48 points and grabbed 13 rebounds in a memorable showdown with an LSU team featuring Shaquille O’Neal and Chris Jackson the Lions lost 148-141 in overtime.
In the first half against Portland, after Gathers converted an alley-oop pass to a slam dunk, tragedy struck as he collapsed at mid-court. He would be declared dead when he arrived hospital shortly thereafter, a victim of an irregular heart beat. During a Today Show appearance earlier in the season, Gathers had bragged that he had the “heart of a lion.”
Despite the tragedy, LMU went on an amazing run in the NCAA tournament. Beating:
- New Mexico State 111-92;
- Defending Champions Michigan 149-115 (as guard Jeff Fryer hit a record 11-three point baskets); and
- Alabama 62-60
Their Cinderella run came to an end against UNLV, as the Running Rebels held off the Lions 131-101. UNLV would go on to win the national championship.
Since Gathers death, LMU has had only four winning seasons and has not returned to the NCAA tournament since 1990.
In 1993, a cousin of Gathers died after collapsing during tryouts for a high school basketball team.