Wolverines fall to Loyola, look for at-large playoff bid

Finishing its regular season with a 66-56 loss Feb. 10 against Loyola, the boys’  varsity basketball team will aim to reach CIF playoffs via an at-large bid after failing to automatically qualify for the first time in head coach Greg Hilliard’s 29-year tenure.

The Wolverines finished their season at 4-8 in Mission League competition and in sixth place in league standings, missing the requisite top-four spot to earn an automatic playoff berth.

At 11-15 overall, the team ends its regular season with a losing record for the first time in over 10 years. The Wolverines have had a streaky season, defined by strings of consecutive losses, and in the Mission League, topped by a Loyola team ranked top five in the nation, the team struggled to gather momentum with more than one win at a time. Head coach Greg Hilliard, who earned his 600th win as Harvard-Westlake boys’ basketball head coach Jan. 31 against Notre Dame, finds falling behind early to be a repeated issue for his team.

“I think we’re really playing hard and really playing well to get in these positions where we have a chance because, in almost every case, we’re outmanned as far as quickness and athleticism by many of these teams in the Mission League,” Hilliard said. “It seems like the way every game goes is we get down by eight or ten, then we come back, then we get down again, then we come back. The good part is we never quit and we always come back, but the bad part is we always fall back. I think our difficulty is consistency at that high level for 32 minutes.”
Due to a lack of size on the team the Wolverines’ main shortcomings have come on the boards, with the team having been outrebounded in every game this season. Six-foot-five Derick Newton ’14, who played at the small forward position in his sophomore and junior year, has been forced to start at the center position throughout his senior year campaign. Fellow senior big man Sam Weintraub ’14 has missed nearly the entire season with injury, though he did play through it for two minutes and hit a midrange jumper in the team’s senior night game against Alemany Feb. 5.

“We’ve absolutely tried everything – we’ve had all five guys crashing the boards because we’re outmanned physically,” Hilliard said. “We have not outrebounded any game this year, and we’ve still managed to win the 10 games we’ve won. That’s our weakest category at this point.”

Loyola made the Wolverines’ deficiency on the glass particularly apparent in the rivals’ first meeting of the season Jan. 24, as seven-footer Thomas Welsh and the Cubs collected 35 total rebounds to the Wolverines’ 16 total boards as the Wolverines fell to the Cubs 80-39.

“That was one of the roughest games I’ve ever been a part of,” Hilliard said. “Without Weintraub out there, who did a great job last year of containing [Welsh], we had a tough time.”

Hilliard’s team will find out if Monday’s game against Loyola was their last of the season – as well as the last of Newton’s, guard Mike Sheng’s ’14 and the seniors’ careers – Feb. 16. If they earn an at-large bid, the Wolverines will likely face a squad from another league in a wild card-style game to determine whether they will enter the CIF Division IV bracket or not.