by Corina Gebbers
The Whitworth men’s basketball team clinched the Northwest Conference title after wins on the road against Linfield College and Pacific University on Feb. 10 and 11.
“I think that everything we’ve been working for is much closer and much more tangible,” said head coach Matt Logie. “[Motivating the players] is easier in this point in time with the opportunity to accomplish the goals we set at the beginning of the year.”
The Pirates kicked off the weekend with a 95- 67 win against Linfield. The Wildcats nearly upset Whitworth on Jan. 14, but Whitworth learned from their mistakes and overcame the Wildcats the second time around.
“The first time we didn’t execute defensively the way we would have like to,” Logie said.
Senior guard Wade Gebbers sparked the Bucs’ offense with two treys, and a bucket by junior forward Mack Larkin boosted Whitworth to an early lead. Senior forward Jack Loofburrow rallied the Pirates with five consecutive points, but Linfield managed to answer with a 7-0 run.
Contributions from the bench supplied another flare for the Pirate offense. Junior guard Colton McCargar went four for four from three-point range in the first half, while Loofburrow generated offensive momentum for Whitworth, scoring 10 of his 13 points during the first half.
“Everyone’s contributing,” said redshirt freshman guard Austin Ehlo. “And if someone gets tired there’s someone to step up.”
Whitworth powered over the Wildcats in the second half despite foul trouble for senior post Felix Freidt (pictured left) and senior post Michael Taylor. Linfield struggled to defend the Pirate offense, and Whitworth went on to shoot 61.35 percent in the second half.
“We were really ready to go and pumped to come out this weekend,” McCargar said. “We really executed well.”
Whitworth pulled ahead 72- 55 on a Gebbers’ trey. Linfield couldn’t endure Whitworth’s fast-paced offense and solid defense, and the Pirates sustained their significant lead.
“Toward the end of the game we really pushed the ball and played faster and were able to score points in bunches,” Logie said.
Senior forward Idris Lasisi and McCargar led the Bucs with 15 points apiece. Larkin finished with 13 points and junior guard Dustin McConnell, Ehlo and Friedt each contributed 10 points.
On Saturday night the Pirates beat Pacific University 76-54 to secure the NWC title.
“Tonight we came in with a plan and from the start we played with a lot of energy,” Gebbers said.
After four lead changes to start the game, Lasisi hit a three-point basket to spark an 8-2 run for the Pirates and Gebbers hit his 71st trey of the season to put Whitworth up 20-13. But Pacific played relentlessly and stayed within 10 points until just eight minutes remained in the first half.
“We lost our energy for a few possessions,” Gebbers said. “[But] we came right back at them with a run of our own every time they started to get their confidence up.”
The Pirates combined aggressive offense with tough defense to gradually extend their lead to 48-25 going into halftime.
“We did a good job of locating shooters and playing good defense in the post,” Gebbers said. “We were able to string some stops together and that fueled our offense.”
Pacific scored the first points of the second half, but Friedt answered with a bucket for Whitworth, and the Pirates extended their lead to as many as 30 points by game’s end.
Lasisi led all players with 24 points, Loofburrow contributed 14 points, and Gebbers added 10 points and five assists for the Pirates.
Before the games Logie reflected on the past month’s importance to his team.
“Every weekend we had important games on our schedule,” Logie said. “We were really able to have a lot of success during that time and put ourselves in the lead in the conference.”
The Pirates took a hit losing Loofburrow, Larkin and junior forward Zach Payne to injuries, but found strength off the bench, and formed an identity of hard work and confidence in each other.
“I think we’ve really kind of figured out who we are,” Logie said. “Everybody knows their role and we’re playing really well together because everyone has had to step up.”
The Pirates battled close games both at home and on the road, including a double overtime win over Pacific Lutheran University and a victory at the University of Puget Sound.
“Our trip to Tacoma in early January was a critical moment for us,” Logie said. “We had a lot of different guys step up and help us to those victories, [and] I think that gave us a lot of confidence through the rest of the month.”
Whitworth, ranked ninth in the nation as of last Sunday, hosts its final conference game on Feb. 18 against Willamette.
Contact Corina Gebbers at firstname.lastname@example.org.