January 31, 1998 in Sports

Pirates Step Into Top Spot Whitworth Wins, Shares First With George Fox

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Did anyone really think the Willamette Bearcats would be the team that put a screeching stop to the Whitworth College men’s basketball team’s big-time winning streak at the Whitworth Fieldhouse?

The Bearcats already had lost to Whitworth in Salem, Ore., this season in Northwest Conference of Independent Colleges play.

Friday’s rematch was at the Pirates’ house, on the court that brought them 38 straight wins dating to December 1994. This year, the Whits had beaten their previous six home opponents by an average of 19.8 points.

Willamette (9-7, 5-5) did a little better than that - mostly due to a flurry of buckets in the final minutes - but it certainly wasn’t enough to prevent Whitworth’s 74-61 victory.

“They (Whitworth) should make their reservation for the national tournament now,” Willamette coach Gordie James said of Whitworth, the eighth-ranked team in the NAIA Division II Top 25 poll.

The Pirates also need to reserve a spot at the top of the Northwest Conference standings. Friday’s win, coupled with No. 22 George Fox’s 90-77 loss at Whitman, put the Pirates and the Bruins in a tie for first-place at 8-2. Whitworth (12-4 overall) and George Fox (10-6) meet tonight as the Bucs go for their 40th consecutive home win.

“Tomorrow (Saturday) is a whole new game, it’s for the championship. It’s early, there are a lot of games yet, but if you knock them down, we’re right there with them,” said Whitworth coach Warren Friedrichs before finding out Whitman upset George Fox.

Friday night provided a playoff-like atmosphere, at least for the first half, when the Bearcats kept pace and enjoyed a modest 20-17 lead at the 9:23 mark.

But when reserve guard Sean Weston nailed one of Whitworth’s six 3-pointers at 9:06, the Pirates took a 22-20 lead and never trailed. They led by as much as 70-47 with 2:53 left in the game.

Center Ben Heimerman led the Pirates with 20 points (6-of-8 shooting) and 10 rebounds. The 6-foot-6 senior scored six straight points in a 2-minute span in the first half.

He put together a bigger streak near the end of the game, scoring 10 points - 4 of 4 from the foul line - in 3 minutes before exiting with the Pirates ahead 72-50 with 2:14 remaining.

The Pirates began to pull away when they put on a half-court zone trap midway through the second half. The defense created four straight steals for the Bucs, who finished with 15, four by Tyler Jordan.

“They (Whitworth) have a lot of confidence. They’re playing well,” said Friedrichs. “I like the mentality of this group.”

Whitworth’s Jeff Mix, out earlier this week against Whitman because of a sprained ankle, came back strong and finished with 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting. Ryan Nelson contributed 10 points, opening the first and second halves by hitting from 3-point range.

Jason Downey, a 6-5 post, led the Bearcats with 12 points.

Whitworth converted 28 of 60 shots (46.7 percent) while Willamette finished 23 of 57 (40.4 percent). The Pirates also won on the boards, outrebounding Willamette 39-31.

“They never beat themselves,” James said of Whitworth. ‘They execute. They make the same plays over and over and over. And they’re very solid fundamentally.”

Whitworth 74, Willamette 61

Willamette (9-7, 5-5) - Ioane 1-1 0-0 3, B.Nelson 3-9 0-0 8, Gahr 1-4 2-2 5, VandenBrink 1-7 0-0 2, Rice 0-4 3-4 3, Lubisich 2-3 0-0 6, Hanna 3-7 1-1 7, Peck 2-3 1-2 6, Smith 1-5 0-0 2, Watts 1-2 1-4 3, Gow 0-0 0-0 0, Downey 6-9 0-2 12, Greg 2-3 0-0 4, Anderson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-57 8-15 61.

Whitworth (12-4, 8-2) - Ramey 0-0 0-0 0, Mix 6-9 2-3 14, Weston 1-5 2-2 5, Schulz 3-5 0-0 6, Nakanishi 1-3 0-0 2, R.Nelson 4-9 0-0 10, Heimerman 6-8 8-8 20, Sullivan 1-1 0-0 2, McDaniel 1-2 0-0 2, Jordan 1-7 0-0 3, Jones 3-8 0-1 8, Ruebel 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 28-60 12-14 74.

Halftime - Whitworth 32, Willamette 29. 3-point goals - Willamette 7-18 (Lubisich 2-3, B.Nelson 2-5, Ioane 1-1, Peck 1-1, Gahr 1-2, Rice 0-2, VandenBrink 0-4), Whitworth 6-12 (Jones 2-2, R.Nelson 2-6, Weston 1-1, Jordan 1-1, Nakanishi 0-1, Ruebel 0-1). Fouled out - None. Rebounds - Willamette 31 (Watts 7), Whitworth 39 (Heimerman 10). Assists - Willamette 15 (Ioane 3), Whitworth 15 (Jordan 5). Total fouls - Willamette 16, Whitworth 17. Technicals - None. A - NA.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo


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