Seventh-seeded Ramblers seek first league tourney title since 1985
Ramblers searching for first victory in a regular-season finale since 2006
Loyola looks to avoid falling below .500 for first time this season
Ramblers put undefeated home record in non-conference play on the line
Ramblers are seeking their first series sweep of a conference foe since 2010-11
Former University of Arizona standout and All-American Jason Gardner is entering his second season as an assistant coach at Loyola University Chicago. A native of Indianapolis, Gardner was as an assistant coach at Cathedral High School in his hometown prior to arriving at Loyola.
In his first season at Loyola in 2011-12, Gardner helped forward Ben Averkamp develop into a Second Team All-Horizon League selection as the Ramblers produced their first all-conference player since 2006-07. In addition to Averkamp, five other returning players established personal single-season career bests in scoring average as the staff laid the foundation for future success.
The Ramblers began to get comfortable with the offense as the season came to a close, averaging 65.8 points per game over the final eight contests, after mustering 54.1 ppg through the first 22 games. Averkamp led the team in both scoring (15.4 ppg) and rebounding (7.1 rpg) and was one of only two players to rank among the top five in the Horizon League in each category in 2011-12.
Loyola also landed one of the top recruiting classes in the Horizon League for the 2012-13 season, and Gardner's Indiana roots and ties to the area helped Loyola reel in Hoosier state natives Nick Osborne (Muncie, Ind.) and Matt O'Leary (Terre Haute, Ind.), among other notable recruits.
Off the court, Averkamp and Walt Gibler received a plethora of awards as both were named to the Horizon League Men's Basketball All-Academic Team, the I-AAA Men's Basketball Scholar-Athlete Team and the National Jesuit Men's Basketball All-Academic Team. Averkamp also garnered Capital One Academic All-District V accolades.
Gardner brings an outstanding pedigree to Loyola, having played under Hall of Fame coach Lute Olson at Arizona. In addition to taking the Wildcats to the NCAA Championship game in 2001, Gardner also won a state title as a high school player and put together a solid professional playing career in Europe.
"Jason has been around winning and championship programs all his life," Loyola Head Coach Porter Moser said. "Coaches from Lute Olson to Josh Pastner have talked about his contagious work ethic and leadership abilities. We set out to find someone with ties to the state of Indiana and Jason is well respected and connected there. He has been where all of our players aspire to go - a national championship game."
Prior to his stint at Cathedral High School, Gardner was a standout professional player in Europe, spending most of his time in Germany, where he starred for seven years before opting to join the coaching ranks. During the 2008-09 season, he was named most valuable player of the German Basketball Bundesliga after leading Oldenburg to the German League Championship.
His best season as a collegiate player came in 2001-02, when he averaged 20.4 points, 2.9 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 1.6 steals per game, while helping the Wildcats to a 24-10 overall record. At the time of his graduation, he ranked second in college basketball history with 4,825 minutes played.
A 2003 graduate of Arizona, Gardner was a four-time All-America selection as a player and helped the Wildcats to a 2001 NCAA Runner-Up finish. At the conclusion of his rookie campaign in 1999-2000, he was named United Basketball Writers Association National Freshman of the Year. In 2005, Gardner had his No. 22 jersey retired by the University of Arizona and on March 16, 2013 he will be inducted into the Pac-12 Men's Basketball Hall of Honor.
As a prep player at North Central High School in Indianapolis, Gardner earned the prestigious Mr. Basketball award for the state of Indiana and was both a McDonald's and Parade All-American and helped his team to the 1999 state title.