March Madness: Loyola-Chicago, Nevada look to continue surprising runs

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Loyola-Chicago guard Clayton Custer (13) pulls up and hits a game-winning shot versus the Tennessee Vols. Loyola faces off against Nevada in the Sweet 16 Thursday in Atlanta. Photo courtesy of Loyola-Chicago Basketball/Twitter
Loyola-Chicago guard Clayton Custer (13) pulls up and hits a game-winning shot versus the Tennessee Vols. Loyola faces off against Nevada in the Sweet 16 Thursday in Atlanta. Photo courtesy of Loyola-Chicago Basketball/Twitter

Ninety years and 1,900 miles separate the two superstars of this year's NCAA Tournament.

Loyola-Chicago has a 98-year-old nun. Nevada has an eight-year-old super fan.


It seems as if Sister Jean Dolores-Schmidt has helped deliver two buzzer-beating wins for the Ramblers.

And Mariah Musselman, the precocious daughter of the Wolf Pack's exuberant coach, has been Nevada's biggest cheerleader during its run to the Sweet 16.

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The teams' secret weapons are no longer a secret.

Not after Sister Jean, the Ramblers' team chaplain, inspired No. 11-seed Loyola (30-5) to back-to-back nail-biting wins, a 64-62 win over No. 6 Miami on Thursday and a 63-62 upset over third-seeded Tennessee on Saturday.

"I say a prayer, but sometimes there's a little more than talking to God in the prayer," Sister Jean said on "Good Morning America" this week. "We wanna be sure that, when the buzzer goes off, the numbers indicate that we get the big W. I pray for the other team, perhaps not as hard."

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Mariah exhorted the Wolf Pack to two come-from-behind wins. Nevada (29-7) overcame a 14-point deficit on Friday to beat No. 10 Texas in overtime 87-83. Then on Sunday, Mariah's dad made the necessary adjustment over the last 11-plus minutes and Nevada climbed out of a 22-point hole to beat No. 2-seed Cincinnati 75-73 to set up Thursday's Sweet 16 battle against the Ramblers in Atlanta.


What does Mariah's dad have to say about Loyola?

"They're a really, really well-coached team that presents a lot of problems. To beat Miami, to beat Tennessee ... this team is really good," Musselman said. "They have a freshman center who was freshman of the year in their conference. They have the player of the year from their conference and they have a bunch of really good shooters."

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Looking past the two darlings of the tournament are two very different teams hoping to write a storybook ending to a tournament no one could have predicted.

To advance to the Elite Eight, Musselman said, will require a team to play its "A-game" and nearly "perfect basketball."

On display for the Ramblers will be Clayton Custer, the aforementioned Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year. He averages 13.3 points and 4.2 assists per game, shoots 46 percent from beyond the arc and had the game-winning shot against the Volunteers.

Cameron Krutwig, the MVC Freshman of the Year, averages 10.4 points and 6.1 rebounds. Donte Ingram and Marques Townes each average more than 11 points and shoot nearly 40 percent from beyond the arc.

The Ramblers have won 12 straight and 19 out of their past 20. They rank third in the nation in field goal percentage (50.6 percent) and 50th in field-goal defense (41.6 percent).


But it's defense where the Ramblers rest their laurels. Their opponents in the regular season turn the ball over on nearly 20 percent of possessions and make only 33.2 percent of their 3-point shots.

"We've got our foot on the pedal," coach Porter Moser told the Chicago Tribune. "We feel like we're chasing. We're going to chase some more. We've got to chase Nevada. We're going to be the underdog in this game, and we're going to chase 'em."

Caleb Martin leads the Wolf Pack, which shoots almost 40 percent from long range, at 18.8 points per game. Jordan Caroline averages 17.7 points and 8.7 rebounds. Cody Martin, Caleb's twin brother, contributes 13.9 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game.

"Loyola is a great team, but we're ready, we're hungry, we know we can beat them and we'll go in there expecting to beat them," Wolf Pack guard Kendall Stephens said. "At the same time, they're there for a reason like we are, so we'll approach it in that manner."

The South Region is wide open with the top four seeds already planning their summers. Loyola, which won the NCAA title in 1963, approaches Thursday's game full of confidence.


"In our region, a ton of upsets have happened, and people say, 'Oh, things look easier for you,'" Loyola guard Ben Richardson told the Chicago Sun-Times. "I'm like, are you kidding? Have you seen what happened? You think it's going to be easier after seeing all that? It's anything goes."

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