by Caleb Mathena
Men’s basketball improved their record to 26-1 last weekend after winning the Northwest Conference Championship for the 10th consecutive season. The Pirates defeated the University of Puget Sound Loggers last Thursday and the Pacific Lutheran University Lutes on Saturday.
Unlike their previous matchup against the Loggers, the Bucs dominated almost all 40 minutes of Thursday’s NWC tournament semifinal, besting UPS 75-58. The last time the two teams faced off, senior George Valle put in a last-minute layup to avoid overtime and win the game. This time, the Bucs found themselves trailing only once.
“After watching film, we knew what we had to do to change our defensive plan,” junior Drew Sears said. “They had way too many corner threes the last time we played [UPS] so I told my guys to drive them into me, make sure they don’t shoot the threes and I’ll take care of the rest.”
The game began with a layup from Sears to give the Bucs the lead in the first few seconds. Sears would later finish out the night as the team’s leading scorer with 16 total points and four blocks.
Junior Kenny Love followed up with a 3-pointer to pull the Pirates out of their only deficit of the game in the third minute of the first half. From there on out, it was Whitworth’s game.
All five starters for the Pirates scored in double digits. Junior Christian Jurlina was second in scoring among his teammates with 13 points. Jurlina also co-led the Bucs in rebounds with Valle, who each grabbed nine.
“It was just great teamwork,” Jurlina said. “We’re an unselfish team so if someone’s wide open, we’re going to pass it to them. We all have confidence in each other to knock down these shots.”
In the end, the Pirates defeated the Loggers, 75-58.
A packed Fieldhouse watched as the Pirates claimed a 75-62 victory over the PLU Lutes Saturday night.
Love started off the game with a 3-pointer 30 seconds into the first half to put the Pirates ahead early. The Lutes answered with a layup and a 3-pointer of their own to take the lead 5-3. The Bucs’ defense struggled for the next eight minutes to respond until senior Matt Staudacher’s 3-pointer brought them within one point.
“It was just basic stuff we weren’t addressing on the defensive end,” Love said. “We weren’t getting back fast enough, they were getting easy looks, and we just weren’t playing like we know we can.”
The Bucs finally found their rhythm again with 13 minutes to go in the first half when Love generated five fast points with back-to-back steals and gave the Pirates a 20-18 lead.
“Throughout the course of his career, Kenny has been a playmaker,” head coach Matt Logie said. “He can do it in a lot of different ways and our guys feed off of that. We’re really lucky to have so many different guys that can step up in those moments.”
Love opened the second half just like he did in the first, with a 3-pointer within the first few seconds, lengthening the Pirates’ lead. Love would finish the night with 23 points and four steals, leading three other double-digit scorers for the Pirates.
“I thought we finished much better than we started,” Logie said. “Our guys have kept their focus through all sorts of adversities and circumstances this year by focusing on what’s ahead.”
Despite the Lutes’ efforts to regain ground late in the game, the damage was already done. The Pirates won 70-62—their 10th time in a row as NWC champs.
Make sure to visit whitworthpirates.com to see when and where men’s basketball will play their first NCAA tournament game.