Basketball

Nun-and-done: Sister Jean’s Loyola stun No.1 seed at NCAA tournament

If the pre-game prayer sounded more like a scouting report, it was. And if Sister Jean didn’t have any plans for next weekend, well, she does now.

Loyola Chicago carried out the plans of their 101-year-old superfan Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the venerable team chaplain, to a T on Sunday, moving to the Sweet 16 with a 71-58 win over Illinois, the first No.1 seed bounced from this year’s NCAA tournament.

Sister Jean celebrates Loyola’s win.Credit:Getty Images

Cameron Krutwig delivered a 19-point, 12-rebound masterpiece and the quick-handed, eighth-seeded Ramblers (26-4) led wire to wire. They befuddled a powerful Illinois offence to return to the second weekend three years after their last magical run to the Final Four.

A hard habit to break for these Ramblers. And a classic case of nun-and-done for the Illini.

“We just executed, played our game and controlled the game from the start,” Krutwig said. “Nobody was really doing anything out of body or out of mind. We just stuck to the game plan.”

Who wrote it?

Some of Loyola’s wisdom comes from Sister Jean, who headlined the team’s 2018 run to the final four and received both COVID-19 vaccination shots so she could travel to Indianapolis to see what inspiration she could provide in 2021.

Loyola’s Marquise Kennedy and Keith Clemons celebrate their win.Credit:Getty Images

Before taking in this game from the luxury suite – sitting in her wheelchair and decked out in her trademark maroon and gold scarf – Jean delivered a pre-game prayer that could’ve been stripped straight from a John Wooden handbook.

“As we play the Fighting Illini, we ask for special help to overcome this team and get a great win,” she said. “We hope to score early and make our opponents nervous. We have a great opportunity to convert rebounds as this team makes about 50 per cent of lay-ups and 30 per cent of its three points. Our defence can take care of that.”

From her mouth to their ears.

Illinois (24-7) earned top seeding for the first time since their own final four run in 2005, but fell behind by 14 in the first half and never got within striking range. The Illini committed 16 turnovers and scored 23 points fewer than their season average. A team that lives for easy buckets in transition got two fast-break points.

“We tried everything in the bag,” Illinois coach Brad Underwood said. “Everything that’s made us one of the most efficient offensive teams, today, just for whatever reason, didn’t work.”

It’s a turn of events that Sister Jean could see happening. Before the game, she suggested Loyola, who have the nation’s best defence (55.7 points per game) and were ranked 17th in the final AP poll, might have gotten a raw deal with a No.8 seeding that put it up against a 1 so early.

There was only one way to deal with that – by winning. To anyone outside of Champaign – or now holding a freshly obliterated bracket – it’s hard to argue this Loyola team isn’t the breath of fresh air this tournament-in-a-bubble sorely needed.

Sure, there have been upsets, some drama and little teams doing big things.

But there’s nobody quite like Sister Jean to put the whole thing in perspective. The Ramblers and March Madness – what an inspiration!

“It’s amazing what happens when you get a group of young men who believe,” coach Porter Moser said. “And these guys believed.”

AP

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