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Porter Moser says Loyola loss to Nevada a lesson: ‘This is where we want to go’

Loyola coach Porter Moser stopped each player Tuesday as they came out of the game for the last time in the Ramblers’ 79-65 loss to No. 5 Nevada at Gentile Arena.

“This is where we want to go,” Moser told his players. “This is what we want to do.”

Eight months after the Ramblers ended the Wolf Pack’s season in the Sweet 16, Nevada (7-0) got some revenge on Loyola (4-3).

Despite the loss, Moser wasn’t disappointed by his team’s performance.

Loyola guard Clayton Custer drives to the basket against Nevada forward Cody Martin on Tuesday at Gentile Arena. | Matt Marton/Associated Press

“As we are building and getting better throughout the year, this is where we want to get to,” Moser said. “You can only get better. We have to get better than this.”

But there are a lot of areas the Ramblers need to improve if they want to make it to the NCAA Tournament again.

Loyola came out flat in the first half, a recurring issue this season, shooting 39.3 percent from the field and 30 percent from three-point range. One unexpected bright spot was freshman Cooper Kaifes, who scored 11 points.

“Cooper Kaifes was absolutely not afraid of the moment, not afraid of the stage,” Moser said. “Cooper stepped up.”

Now it’s a matter of getting other young players to step up, Moser said while holding up the box score.

It’s clear the Ramblers are relying heavily on guards Marques Townes, who scored a game-high 24 points, and Clayton Custer, who’s shooting 46.2 percent from the field.

“We’ve got to get seven or eight guys where if you’re playing 10 minutes, you’re playing 10 valuable minutes,” Moser said. “I’m playing Marques and Clay too much — flat-out. We need to get some of these guys more minutes.”

Moser named Bruno Skokna, Lucas Williamson, Aher Uguak and Isaiah Bujdoso as players he wanted to see develop to take some of the load off Townes and Custer, who both played 37 minutes.

Some might dwell on three early-season losses, but Moser won’t because he looks at each one as a learning experience.

“We’ve got to shore up our mistakes defensively,” Moser said. “We have to develop our depth. We had some moments where we competed. . . . We had our moments, and you build on those, and you really get obsessed with correcting and getting better.”

“Obsessed” is a word Moser employs frequently. He wants his team to become totally engrossed in the process.

Ask any of Loyola’s players, and they’ll say they’re not thinking about March and the NCAA Tournament.

Looking forward, Loyola is scheduled to have two tough matchups on the road. The Ramblers will play No. 24 Maryland and St. Joseph before they start Missouri Valley Conference play on Jan. 2 against Indiana State.

“We knew we could play with anybody,” Townes said. “We just have to stay aggressive. We have to [play] two halves. We try not to [think of last season’s Final Four run]. . . . Last year was last year; right now we have to focus on what we have to do to win the next game.”