Loyola coach says ’98 NCAA title game loss haunted Majerus

Coach Porter Moser has led Loyola-Chicago to its first Final Four in 55 years.

In writing sports since the days of the 53-team NCAA Tournament, I’ve covered basketball for a good chunk of my career, but I never got a chance to meet the late Rick Majerus.

And really, all I can say about that is, it’s a damned shame.

From all accounts, Majerus was smart, funny and dedicated to his craft.

That’s why I got a kick out of listening to Loyola-Chicago coach Porter Moser Thursday at the NCAA Final Four media session.

Moser addressed a question about what a coincidence it is for his Loyola team to arrive in San Antonio 20 years after his mentor, Majerus, brought his Utah Utes to the city in 1998.

For Majerus, it was his one and only trip to the Final Four.

“I remember seeing coach Majerus in a white T-shirt that said, ‘Utah Utes,’ and his team walking out (to the court),” said Moser, who worked then at Texas A&M. “I remember going, ‘Holy Cow, look at how big that team (is).’ I remember seeing them at a restaurant on the River Walk.

“I remember that vividly.”

In 2007, the coaches’ careers intersected again. Majerus, then the head coach at Saint Louis, threw Moser a life line, of sorts.

Fired after four years as head coach at Illinois State, Moser joined Majerus as an assistant.

The two spent four years together, until another opportunity presented itself to Moser.

In 2011, Loyola handed him the head coaching job. Now, Moser has led the Ramblers to their first Final Four in 55 years.

Moser reminisced about his days at Saint Louis with Majerus, who died of heart failure in December 2012.

He was 64.

“Of all the things about coach, he remembers things,” Moser said. “There’s nothing that stuck in his craw more than losing that (1998) championship game to Kentucky. He could tell you every play. He could tell you everything.”

In the semifinals, the Andre Miller- and Michael Doleac-led Utes knocked off the North Carolina Tar Heels, 65-59. But in the finals, the Tubby Smith-coached Wildcats prevailed, 78-69.

“It physically bothered him to lose that game,” Moser said, “and he talked about it.”

Because the Loyola coach has looked up to Majerus so much, he said bringing his team to San Antonio this year is special.

He said people ask him often about what Majerus would say about the Ramblers, who have stormed through regional play as a No. 11 seed, all the way to San Antonio.

Loyola will play the Michigan Wolverines in the first of two NCAA semifinals Saturday.

“I think he’d love our team,” Moser said. “We share (the ball). I think he’d say we play the right way.”

The Ramblers will play the Michigan Wolverines in the first of two NCAA semifinals Saturday.

“We’ve got to be the first team in Final Four history to win the first four games with no dunks” Moser said. “It’s a stat I’m not proud of.

“But I think (coach Majerus) would be proud of our guys and how unselfish (they are) and how they share it.”

Loyola-Chicago to the Final Four after victory over Kansas State

In what could be viewed as a boost for all the underdogs in life, the Loyola-Chicago Ramblers have qualified to play in the NCAA Final Four.

The 11th-seeded Ramblers claimed their ticket to San Antonio with a 78-62 victory over Kansas State Saturday in Atlanta for the South Regional championship.

It is Loyola’s first trip to the Final Four since the Ramblers won the 1963 NCAA championship.

Winners of 14 in a row and 21 of their last 22, the Missouri Valley Conference champions tied with three other programs in the modern history of the tournament as the lowest seed to reach the national semifinals.

In addition, a basketball coincidence has emerged with Loyola-Chicago coach Porter Moser coming to the Alamodome.

The late Rick Majerus brought his Utah Utes to the Final Four in 1998 in San Antonio’s first year to host the event.

Rising through the coaching ranks, Moser always considered Majerus as one of his mentors.

He worked on Majerus’ staff at Saint Louis for four years before taking the job at Loyola-Chicago in 2011.

Majerus, battling heart trouble, died in 2012. He was 64.

“It’s hard to quantify all the things I got from him,” Moser, the MVC Coach of the Year, told the Chicago Tribune recently. “I made the most of four years with him as a friend and a coach.”

Lowest seeds to the Final Four

No team seeded lower than No. 11 has ever made it to the NCAA Final Four since 1985, according to The Sporting News.

The following are the lowest seeds to make it:

No. 11 — LSU (in 1986), George Mason (2006) and Virginia Commonwealth (2011)

No. 10 — Syracuse (2016)

No. 9 — Wichita State (2013)

No. 8 — Villanova (1985), North Carolina (2000), Wisconsin (2000), Butler (2011), Kentucky (2014).

Note: The tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985.