Loyola will play Missouri Baptist in the first round of the NAIA tournament on March 20 in Kansas City, Missouri.
The Wolf Pack (21-11) are ranked 24th in the final NAIA poll, which came out Wednesday, after not being ranked. Loyola received an automatic berth by winning the Southern States Athletic Conference tournament championship and is a No. 6 seed in the Naismith bracket of the NAIA tournament. Ninth-ranked Missouri Baptist (28-4), which won the American Midwest Conference regular season title, is a No. 3 seed.
“They have a 6-foot-7 big kid named Pablo Hernandez who is a really heady passer and can score around the basket,” Loyola coach Stacy Hollowell said. “And, they have a little guard from Australia named Kai Woodfall who shoots the ball really well.
“Missouri Baptist is the No. 1 defense in the country. They shoot the 3 really well, they move the ball really well, and they don’t make a lot of turnovers.”
Loyola, which was seeded fourth in the SSAC tournament, has won its past six games. It is in the NAIA tournament for the second time in three years. And it is only the school’s third berth to a national tournament since 1946. The 1994-95 Wolf Pack received a bid to the NAIA Division II tournament.
This year’s Wolf Pack came on down the season’s final stretch.
“I like the way we are defending and rebounding,” Hollowell said. “And I like the way we’ve come around to understand the importance of possessions in a game. We had a time where we sat down and said, ‘Guys, we’ve lost seven or eight games by one or two possessions.’ ”
Loyola is led by freshmen Zach Wrightsil and Myles Burns, both of whom were selected first-team All-SSAC. Wrightsil, a 6-foot-6 guard/forward, was chosen Freshman of the Year. Burns, a 6-5 forward, was picked as the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year and was the SSAC tourney MVP. Also, guard Ethan Turner, a senior from Covington who prepped at Mandeville High School, was selected to the all-tournament team.