by Korey Hope
The Whitworth men’s basketball team clinched its fourth straight outright Northwest Conference title last Friday in the second-to-last game of the year, with an 86-53 win over the Linfield Wildcats in McMinnville, Ore. The Bucs also collected an 86-67 victory against the Willamette Bearcats on Saturday to finish the regular season at 22-3 overall (14-2 NWC).
The regular season title for the Pirates reserved a spot in the NWC record book. It was the second time in NWC history that a men’s basketball program had won four straight outright conference titles. Whitman College was the only other program to accomplish that feat, during the 1927-1930 seasons.
“Our guys have really bought into who we are as a team,” head coach Matt Logie said. “A lot of guys have stepped up throughout the year. It’s a great accomplishment.”
The Bucs jumped out to a 13-0 lead on Friday, keeping Linfield scoreless for almost the first eight minutes of the game. The Wildcats eventually heated up and pulled to within six, but it was as close as they could get to the Pirates, who ran away with it in the second half.
Not only was it a record day for the Bucs and the NWC, but also for freshman guard George Valle, who finished the night with a career-high 30 points on 14 of 22 shooting from the floor in only 24 minutes of play.
“They put an undersized player on me most of the game so I was able to use my size to my advantage,” Valle said. “And everything from long range was falling for me which really opens up the floor.”
Valle has averaged 12.4 points per game this season, ranking second on the team behind junior guard Dustin McConnell. McConnell also packed the stat sheet last weekend with 26 points, 12 rebounds, nine assists and three steals for both games combined.
With the outright conference title locked up, Saturday’s game didn’t have as much at stake as other regular season games. However, the Pirate’s approach to the game was unchanged.
“We really wanted to build momentum going into the postseason,” Logie said. “And I thought our guys came out and played well.”
Junior guard Colton McCargar led the Pirates with 20 points, after getting the start for only the third time all season. McCargar averaged 11 points per game off the bench this year, and 13.3 points per game as a starter.
“I got off to a good start and that gave me confidence for the rest of the night,” McCargar said.
And it wasn’t just McCargar who got off to a good start. The Bucs built an early lead again and found themselves up by 14 less than nine minutes into the game. The Pirates didn’t allow their opponent anywhere near the lead, and never trailed for the second game in a row.
Moving forward, the team is confident heading into postseason play.
“We have a tough couple of games to start conference playoffs against teams who have challenged us earlier this season,” Valle said. “There is no easy way to get to the NCAA tournament.”
Despite the tough competition, the team is peaking at the right time and carries a lot of postseason experience, Logie said.
The Bucs begin the NWC tournament against Lewis and Clark this Thursday, Feb. 21 in the Fieldhouse. If victorious, the championship game will be this Saturday, Feb. 23, also in the Fieldhouse.
Contact Korey Hope at firstname.lastname@example.org