Opportunities like the one presented to Whitworth University on Tuesday night are precious and few.
Division III teams ranked as high as Wisconsin-Whitewater seldom travel halfway across the country to play in strange surroundings.
But the No. 3-rated and previously unbeaten Warhawks took that chance this week and ended up walking into an ambush at Whitworth Fieldhouse, where the unranked Pirates used a remarkably balanced scoring attack to hang a 94-84 upset loss on the visitors from the Midwest.
Felix Friedt, Whitworth’s 6-foot-8, 249-pound sophomore center from Dusseldorf, Germany, muscled in a career-high 18 points and four of his teammates also scored in double figures as the Pirates (7-2) won their sixth straight in front of an appreciative crowd of 1,125.
“It was huge,” Friedt said of the win over Whitewater (12-1), which was playing its second game in 24 hours after slipping past the Pirates’ Northwest Conference rival Whitman 89-87 at Whitworth on Monday night. “This is the first opportunity we’ve had as a team to play such a great home game.
“We’ve come a long way since the beginning of the year and showed tonight that we’ve really come together as a team. It was awesome.”
Friedt, operating against Whitewater’s 6-9 senior center Dustin Mitchell, who paced the Warhawks with 17 points and eight rebounds, made 6 of 11 shots and all six of his free throws in tying teammate Eric Beal for game-high scoring honors.
Jack Loofburrow added 17 points – including a fall-away 3-pointer from the right corner that put the Bucs up 74-66 with just more than 6 minutes left – while David Riley scored 15 and Nate Montgomery 12.
Whitworth coach Jim Hayford, while explaining that his university helped with Whitewater’s travel expenses, still praised Warhawks coach Pat Miller.
“I give Coach Miller a lot of credit for bringing one of the premier teams in the country out here to a tough road place where not many teams have won,” Hayford said. “I have a lot of respect for him taking on that challenge, because we just don’t get chances like this very often.”
Hayford also praised his resilient team, which shot 54.2 percent (32 of 59) from the field, knocked down 11 of 21 tries from 3-point range and committed only three turnovers, while forcing Whitewater into 15.
“The picture we like to use is five fingers,” he said, waving his hand. “We tell our players we need to come together like a fist, and we definitely did that tonight.”
The win also showed how far the Pirates have come since dropping their season opener by a lopsided score of 101-79 to Wisconsin-Stevens Point, a team Whitewater later beat 67-60.
“We like to think that Stevens Point was the pre-test to our non-conference schedule and that Whitewater was the post-test,” Hayford said. “We flunked the pre-test, but we got an ‘A’ on the post-test. We’ve simply gotten better every week, and that’s encouraging.”
Despite Whitewater’s 60 percent (12 of 20) shooting and 17-7 first-half rebounding edge, Whitworth managed to carve out a 44-37 lead at intermission.