Loyola Marymount (LMU) is one of Southern California's oldest universities and its roots can be traced back to 1906 when the school was known as St. Vincent.
The Lions play their home games at Gersten Pavilion, situated on a campus that is easily one of the most beautiful in the nation. The facility is nicknamed "Hank's House" after former player Hank Gathers. Built in 1981, it remains as beautiful as the surrounding area many years later. Basketball games allow for 4,156 fans, but that figure has been eclipsed on several occasions.
Possibly the most memorable squad from LMU made their mark on college basketball during the 1989-90 season. This team took LMU the furthest it has ever advanced in the NCAA tournament; all the way to the Elite Eight. This was particularly memorable as the team reached this level against the nation's top competition without Hank Gathers (44), one of the school's all-time greats, as he passed away during a game in the conference (WCC) tournament that season. This particular team never provided a dull moment for their fans, averaging 122.4 points per game.
Another memorable time at the Pavilion was during a 16 game winning streak that spanned three seasons from early 1987 through the end of 1988.
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What I enjoyed most about the concessions at Gersten Pavilion was that they were located outside of the arena in an atrium. This helped alleviate crowds during halftime and allows fans to enjoy the Southern California weather without leaving the confines of the arena.
There are two permanent concession stands, both in the same general vicinity. The menu options included mozzarella sticks ($4.50), nachos ($3), side of cheese ($0.50), pretzel ($2.75), churros ($2.25, candy bar ($2), LMU hot dog ($3), popcorn ($2.75), snack club ($2.50), big grab chips ($2.25), garlic fries ($4), and french fries ($3.50).
The beverage options include soda/water ($2.50), coffee/hot chocolate ($2.50), Powerade ($3), Minute Maid ($2.50), or an ICEE ($4).
The atmosphere was a rather pleasant surprise considering the Lions were in the midst of a down year.
The student section, known as "ROAR," was very engaged throughout the contest, lead by a ring leader in a gray blazer. Some of the chants heard during the game included "Let's Go Lions, Let's Go," and "LMU (clap), LMU (clap)." My favorite was when an opposing player would get called for a foul and the students would chant "L, M, U, you, you, you."
The cheer squad occupied the north end, and often got the crowd involved by holding up signs that read "Go Lions" and performing different dance routines. When the cheer squad was not involved, cascading lion's head spotlights and the PA system provided lots of music between breaks, and the beat was often driven by the infamous cowbell.
At the south end was the LMU pep ban, a whole seven members deep. Despite their limited numbers, they definitely provided entertainment, playing tracks such as "Somebody Told Me" by the Killers. Not far away was the mascot, Iggy the Lion and two extreme fans, equipped with large stockings, glasses, and other quirky accessories.
During breaks in the action, the cheer squad would throw t-shirts to the crowd and utilize their t-shirt launcher. There was also a Tower of Pizza promo, where the loudest fans received a free pizza. Probably the most entertaining promotion was sponsored by Chipolte and featured two inflatable Iggy costumes that would race against one another.
The Loyola Marymount campus is just a few miles north of the LAX airport, so is basically at the hub of Los Angeles.
If you are in the mood for donuts, you get them 24 hours a day at the famous Randy's Donuts, made popular by its 23 foot donut atop the building. You may recognize it from Mars Attacks, Coming to America, Problem Child 2, Volcano, or Iron Man 2.
The famous Venice Beach is nearby as well. This is home to the well-known outdoor gym, basketball courts, skate park, and boardwalk with entertainers and art as far as the eye can see.
Brennan's Pub is an interesting nearby location. Like any other pub, they offer bar fare, drink specials, and live music, but it is Thursday nights that really set this place apart. Between 9 and 10 PM, the pub hosts live turtle races. There are seven divisions (midget to monster), and two rounds each, so there is plenty of entertainment. Just be sure to not point at any of the turtles during the race, or face a penalty.
Other interesting nearby joints include Restaurant Piknic, Alejo's Presto Italian Restaurant, Kanpai Japanese Sushi Bar & Grill, Chicago For Ribs, Tompkins Square Bar and Grill, and
Hacienda Del Rey.
As previously mentioned, I was rather impressed by the fan turnout on a Saturday afternoon. Most were in their seats by tipoff and immediately cheering along.
I immediately noticed that most fans were wearing the number 44 jersey of Hank Gathers while entering the arena. Other fans wore the crimson and gray, making one great cohesive statement in the arena.
With the student section leading many of the cheers, the balance of the crowd often followed along, and was especially engaged when the cheer squad was leading the way.
Unfortunately I also noticed that many of the fans were leaving at halftime during a rather entertaining game, so I was a bit confused by such a move.
The university is west of Los Angeles, not far from the 405 and just minutes from the California Route 1.
When you arrive on campus, there is lots of free parking available to fans. Try to arrive early so that you can drive around and see the sights around campus.
When you arrive in the arena, you will notice that there is not a lot of dead space and the fans are practically on top of the court. The main seating is split up into two major sections along the sidelines, with each split into five smaller sections of roughly 15 rows each.
Above the main seating, there are two sections of wooden bleachers. Unfortunately these prove to be a huge eyesore in an otherwise beautiful arena. They detract from the color scheme and really lack a modern feel. I would strongly suggest that LMU convert these bleachers to match the balance of the arena.
The south end of the arena has a tiny section of bleachers that are four rows high that seem to be primarily for the pep band. Lastly, there are 36 courtside seats opposite the player benches. The area surrounding the court is so small that a player driving on a fast break towards the north end could conceivably lose control and go through the double doors and out of the arena.
Some other notable features about the arena include the flat roof with triangular shaped windows at the top, allowing light to pour in during game days. Large speakers are hung over each quadrant of the court providing the audio and scoreboards are at each end. The north scoreboard includes a video board and "hustle stats" that show rebounds, assists, steals, and blocks.
The venue includes two restrooms, with a set inside and a set outside. While they were rather small, they seemed to do the trick in managing crowds. I believe having the further set outside near the concessions helped to alleviate crowds rushing to the interior ones.
Ticket prices are on par with the other Southern California venues and the free parking certainly goes a long way to making this a great value.
The Crimson, or lower, level offers season tickets for $225 or single game tickets for $20. Some of the more premier games, such as Gonzaga and Pepperdine run for $25. The upstairs seating goes for $150 for the season and $15 for single games.
When entering campus, take note of the beautiful fountain on the way in. Just up the hill from it, you can see some wonderful panoramic views of the surrounding area. Before you enter the arena itself, you pass through a beautiful atrium complete with sun roof and plant life.
Once inside, fans will quickly notice the many banners hanging at the north and south ends. The Lions are five-time WCC champs and have made five NCAA tournament appearances, one of which took the team to the Elite Eight. Two notable retired numbers hanging at the south end include Hank Gathers (44) and Bo Kimble (30). Immediately behind the baskets and stretching the length of the baseline is an intimidating image of the lion.
In the lobby, fans will find a bust of the late Albert Gersten, who made countless contributions to the university. Not far away, fans can view the WCC championship trophies.
What I find most interesting about this program is that LMU games are in the top five spots of highest scoring NCAA Division I basketball games. In fact, the Gersten Pavilion was the site of the highest scoring game in NCAA Division I history. The Lions defeated U.S. International here by a score of 181-150 on January 31, 1989.
Possibly my favorite "extra" of the Loyola Marymount experience is that they allow tailgating before the game. During the two hours before the game, fans can occupy Hannon Field and bask in the tailgating experience.
I do believe that Loyola Marymount may be the most underrated experience in Southern California. While the program has not won big in recent years, it still has a big program feel to it.
The fact that you can visit the nearby communities of Venice Beach or Santa Monica, do some tailgating for two hours on a beautiful campus, and witness a rather impressive Division I basketball atmosphere bodes really well for the LMU experience. There are certainly a lot of entertainment options in the area, but I'd recommend taking a few hours of your day to check out a LMU Lions game.
Follow Drew's journeys through Southern California on twitter @Big10Drew.
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