Loyola senior guard Ramar Evans (pictured above) thought about the question for several seconds before he answered.
“I’d have to say St. Ignatius is the biggest game for me,” he said.
The reason is twofold: First, the winner gets possession of the Jesuit Cup for one year. Second, it’s usually an important game on the Catholic North schedule.
“There is a lot that goes into making this a big game,” said Evans, a captain and three-year varsity veteran. “This is one team I want to beat.”
Loyola (13-5, 5-1) hosts St. Ignatius (9-11, 4-2) at 7 p.m. Friday. The Ramblers have lost the last two games to the Wolfpack, but the teams have split games the last four seasons.
“For our school community, this is definitely our biggest game,” Loyola head coach Tom Livatino said. “It’s sold out, and it’s as good of an atmosphere as you will see all season long.”
Livatino said Loyola graduates throughout the years sent letters to this season’s team about what the Jesuit Cup meant to them. The players were presented with them this week.
“Rivalry games are the ones players are going to remember for the rest of their lives, win or lose,” Livatino said. “They are special.”
Much is at stake Friday. The Ramblers are tied for second in the league with DePaul Prep and one game behind Fenwick. The Wolfpack are alone in fourth and two games back of the leading Friars. A Loyola win Friday sets up a monumental matchup with Fenwick at home Tuesday.
“This game gives us another opportunity to put ourselves in a position to win our conference,” Livatino said. “But we have to play better basketball.”
While the Ramblers have won all four of their games in the new year — and eight in a row overall — Livatino said he isn’t entirely happy with how his team has played, especially in the first quarter. He found faults with Loyola’s most recent win, a 56-29 victory over St. Francis on the road Friday.
“We aren’t starting games well, and I don’t know what that’s about,” Livatino said. “We’ve talked about it, showed film on it, and we’ve been off to good starts in the past. I don’t know if it’s focus or energy, but it’s something we have to do better.”
Although they are two games under .500, the Wolfpack have the full attention of the Ramblers. Marist (20-2), Fenwick (15-4) and Naperville North (13-4) are among the teams to have beaten St. Ignatius. According to the Chicago Tribune’s latest poll, Fenwick is 12th, Marist is 16th and Naperville North is 18th.
St. Ignatius is led by senior guard Trey Mack, junior guard Carter Higginbottom and sophomore guard Christian Davis. Livatino said the Wolfpack also have a post presence and depth on the bench.
The wild card in Friday’s game is Matt Monroe, the Wolfpack’s first-year head coach. He took over for Rich Kehoe, who retired after last season. Kehoe coached at St. Ignatius for 21 seasons over two stretches, the last spanning 14 seasons. Monroe came to St. Ignatius from St. Patrick, where he was an assistant under Mike Bailey.
“Whenever a new coach takes over, there is going to be a difference in culture and a new energy,” Livatino said. “They run good stuff. They have a motion offense, which is hard to guard, and they play a tough man defense. [Monroe] has done a good job. They are a good team.”
Photo credit: Melissa Krein/Loyola