by Corina Gebbers
Feb. 25 will once again go down in the record books. On this day in history, Michael Jordan scored a record 58 points in one game for the Chicago Bulls, Pete Maravich scored a career high 68 points for New Orleans, the University of Connecticut’s head coach Jim Calhoun won his 800th game as a coach and, as of late, the Whitworth men’s basketball team won their sixth consecutive Northwest Conference title.
The No. 10 ranked Bucs, who improved their record to 24-3, are on the way to the NCAA Division III Tournament for the sixth straight year after two wins at home over Lewis and Clark College and the University of Puget Sound last week.
Senior forward Idris Lasisi scored 21 of his 27 points in the first half to carry the Pirates to a 79-61 victory last Thursday night over Lewis & Clark College. The Bucs started slow in their NWC Tournament opener, but Lasisi scored 13 consecutive points to rally Whitworth out of an 8-0 deficit to start the game.
“Idris gave us a nice spark in the first half to get us going and move us along,” said head coach Matt Logie.
Then it was senior post Felix Friedt who took control, scoring the next seven points for the Pirates. Junior forward Zach Payne, recovering from an injury, made a solid presence on both the offensive and defensive end of the floor, and senior forward Jack Loofburrow hit a jumper with just under six minutes to play before half time to help the Pirates find their momentum. Despite lacking their usual offensive flare, Whitworth took a 13-point lead into the locker room after a switch to zone defense and outrebounding Lewis & Clark 25-16.
“We did a good job rebounding both halves; guys were putting bodies on bodies,” sophomore guard Dustin McConnell said. “[And] we did a good job talking on defense and helping our teammates out.”
Whitworth maintained the lead through the second half, mainly in part to their solid defense.
“Our defense really gave us a lot of confidence,” Logie said. “We felt like we could get stops as the game went along.”
Junior guard Wade Gebbers scored his first bucket of the game as the Pirates found a rhythm and ran with it. Lasisi hit a 3-pointer to put Whitworth up 49-34 with just under 13 minutes to play, and with the Pirate offense clicking, Lewis & Clark fought to stay within reach. Junior guard Colton McCargar fueled the Bucs off the bench with eight points in the second half, contributing to Whitworth’s 18-point lead at game’s end.
“Overall, we did pretty well,” McConnell said. “When we execute well good things happen for us.”
Lasisi led the way with 27 points, Friedt added 16 points and pulled down 10 rebounds, and Loofburrow contributed nine points. Overall, the Pirates outrebounded Lewis & Clark 46-34.
With the win, Whitworth moved on to the championship game of the NWC Tournament.
“To be here Saturday night [in the NWC championship game] and be able to punch our ticket to the NCAA Tournament here at home is a really great opportunity,” Logie said.
The Pirates matched up against UPS Saturday night, defeating the Loggers 86-71 to clinch their sixth straight NWC Tournament title.
After UPS scored the first basket of the game, Lasisi and Gebbers each hit a trey to spark an 8-0 run for Whitworth. It was the first of several sequences that boosted the Pirates over UPS, but the physical Logger team battled hard and hit their shots to stay within 10 points of Whitworth’s lead.
“We played really well in the first half,” Loofburrow said. “Everyone was playing good defense, but they had guys step up and shoot well.”
With just under seven minutes to play in the first half, the Loggers rallied offensively and regained the lead by one point. Lasisi answered for Whitworth with back-to-back 3-pointers to fuel the Bucs, and Whitworth grabbed their biggest lead of the half off a trey by Loofburrow with less than a minute remaining.
Even with their offensive blaze back the Pirates’ defense contributed greatly to their victory.
“[Defense] was the biggest key to our game,” junior forward Mack Larkin said. “We had a good scout going in and we knew what we needed to do going in. It was a matter of executing what our coaches set out for us.”
And execute is what they did. The Pirates shot 60 percent from the field in the second half, while holding their opponent to less than 50 percent.
“Playing together and having depth [makes it] hard for teams to have a defensive plan against us,” Loofburrow said.
UPS trailed the Pirates by as many as 18 points with just under five minutes to play, but the Loggers threatened to have a late game comeback, cutting Whitworth’s lead to 11 with less than two minutes remaining. But a bucket by McConnell and two Friedt free throws escorted the Bucs to a 15-point victory and the NWC championship title.
“We’ve got some great momentum,” Larkin said. “If we play our game we won’t have any trouble competing when we get into the national tournament.”
Lasisi finished with 19 points and five assists for the Bucs, Gebbers had 17 points and five assists, Friedt ended with 12 points and eight rebounds, Larkin and McConnell added 11 points apiece and Loofburrow contributed 10 points.
“It was a balanced attack tonight,” Larkin said. “It was a matter of one person stepping up at the right time.”
Whitworth will find out Monday morning when and where they play for the first round of the NCAA Division III Tournament.
Contact Corina Gebbers at firstname.lastname@example.org.