INDIANAPOLIS — Loyola executed 101-year-old superfan Sister Jean’s plans 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.
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 offense to return to the second weekend three years after their last magical run to the Final Four.
The Ramblers will next play Oregon State after the Beavers ousted Oklahoma State later Sunday.
Their 2018 trip to the Final Four was headlined by Sister Jean Dolores Schmidt, the venerable team chaplain, who received both COVID-19 vaccination shots and clearance to travel to Indianapolis to see what inspiration she could provide in 2021.
Before taking in most of this game from the luxury suite — sitting in her wheelchair and decked out in her trademark maroon and gold scarf — Jean delivered a pregame 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% of layups and 30% of its 3 points. Our defense can take care of that.”
From her mouth to their ears.
Illinois (24-7) earned top seeding for the first time since its own Final Four run in 2005, but fell behind by double digits in the first half and never got within striking range. The Illini committed 16 turnovers and scored 23 points fewer than their season average.