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How Loyola Chicago/San Francisco Game Ended Up In Salt Lake City

Jan 6, 2022, 3:25 PM | Updated: 6:09 pm
Loyola Chicago - San Francisco...
SALT LAKE CITY, UT - JANUARY 6: Khalil Shabazz #0 of the San Francisco Dons drives to the basket against Lucas Williamson #1 of the Loyola Chicago Ramblers during the second half of their game January 6, 2022 at the Bruin Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. Due to Covid-19 the teams are playing at the neutral site after some of their games were postponed. (Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)
(Photo by Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

TAYLORSVILLE, Utah – Salt Lake Community College was the stage for a memorable college basketball game featuring mid-majors Loyola Chicago/San Francisco.

How does a non-conference game in January with teams from Illinois and California end up at a Junior College gym in Utah?

Both teams were experiencing numerous postponements on their schedules due to opponents experiencing issues with COVID-19. In addition, USF saw Quad One games against Saint Mary’s and Gonzaga, both postponed. So for a Dons team looking to get to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998, they needed to get creative.

Last week, San Francisco head coach Todd Golden contacted first-year Loyola Chicago coach Drew Valentine about playing a game. But nothing materialized. Then USF’s matchup with the Zags was delayed; things kicked into overdrive this past Monday.

As with anything these days, Zoom was the medium to get the game drawn up, the two coaches had a 45-minute call and agreed to face off against one another.

According to Salt Lake City resident and college basketball stats guru Ken Pomeroy, it was the first non-conference game played on a neutral floor in January since 2015. Before that, you had to go back pre-1996 to find a similar game.

But how did Salt Lake City end up being the host?

“We wanted to find somewhere in the middle, somewhat,” said USF head coach Todd Golden. “And we talked about Las Vegas, Phoenix. But then it came down to Salt Lake and Denver and we thought, ‘Alright, cool. That’s fine, let’s do it.’ Fortunately, Kyle Taylor (SLCC Men’s Basketball head coach) and his crew were willing to host us here. So yeah, that’s really how it came about.

It was the type of crowd you would expect for a Noon local Salt Lake time tip-off on a weekday; quiet and pretty much empty. However, the 79-74 Loyola Chicago victory over San Francisco had the vibe of an early morning Thursday or Friday NCAA Tournament first-round game. A stage that both teams will likely experience this March.

There wasn’t much juice in the building, but it was the type of matchup that hoop fans love to see. A willingness for a big non-conference matchup that will only enhance NCAA Tournament resumes.

But the efforts from SLCC staff didn’t go unnoticed by the programs.

“Kudos to Salt Lake City Community College because without their willingness to set up this gameday crew and host this game,” said Loyola Chicago coach Drew Valentine. “It takes a lot of work to do all of that to run the stream, to run the starboard, run the scoreboard. We had the intro videos and I was like, ‘Okay, wow, this is a big-time production for that quick.’ So, have to give them credit and really thankful that they decided to allow us to play this game.”

According to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, Loyola Chicago’s victory bumped the Ramblers to a six-seed in his projected NCAA Tournament field. For San Francisco, they held steady as a nine-seed.

That’s an excellent outcome for a memorable game nestled in Salt Lake City.

Mitch Harper is a BYU Insider for KSLsports.com and host of the Cougar Tracks Podcast (SUBSCRIBE) and Cougar Sports Saturday (Saturday from 12–3 p.m.) on KSL Newsradio. Follow him on Twitter: @Mitch_Harper.

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