Arrow-right Camera

Montgomery’s big night leads Whits

Pirates to play UPS for automatic NCAA berth

No longer held captive on a bench plagued by a stubborn flu bug, Nate Montgomery unloaded his pent-up frustration Thursday night.

After scoring two points in his past two games combined, Montgomery powered his way to 31 points and 14 rebounds in host Whitworth’s 74-66 victory over Linfield in the semifinals of the Northwest Conference men’s basketball tournament.

The Pirates (21-5) are a win away from earning an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III national tournament. To secure that bid, however, Whitworth must win at Puget Sound (23-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday. UPS, the first NWC team to march undefeated through the 16-game conference schedule, topped Whitworth twice in the regular season – both times by a double-digit margin. UPS downed Lewis & Clark 86-74 Thursday night.

“We have to beat the third-ranked team in the country on their floor to go to the NCAA tournament,” Whitworth coach Jim Hayford said. “When we recruit players to Whitworth, we tell them there are going to be some great challenges.”

Linfield’s Cody Tesoro fired in a 15-foot jumper to give the Wildcats a 60-58 edge with just less than 5 minutes left in the contest. Montgomery then took over, scoring Whitworth’s next 14 points to give his team the lead for good.

Montgomery, a 6-foot-8 junior, stepped out and buried his third 3-pointer of the game to put Whitworth in front 65-60. After Linfield’s Erik Olson knocked down a shot from beyond the arc to trim the Pirates’ lead to two, Montgomery converted a three-point play with 42 seconds left to extend the lead to 68-63.

Some coaches may cringe at the sight of their post player hoisting a 3-point attempt, but Hayford said he encourages Montgomery to let them fly when he’s open.

“We’ve had some great players come up big in some big games, and this one ranks right up there with guys like Ryan Symes and Bryan Depew,” Hayford said. “His rebounding, his (six) blocks, his scoring and him going to the line 15 times? That’s quite a combination.”

Montgomery’s previous career high was a 26-point display against Cal State East Bay on Dec. 4. He also scored 25 points against Linfield on Jan. 10.

“I just played hard,” Montgomery said. “I didn’t want to let our four seniors down.”

Whitworth may have needed someone to post a performance like that to outlast Olson and the Wildcats (12-14). Olson scored 22 of his game-high 32 points in the first half to lead Linfield to a 35-30 lead at intermission. The Linfield senior made 9 of 20 attempts from the floor, including 7 for 11 beyond the arc.

“They’re a great transition team, and that’s what got Olson off,” Hayford said. “And you have to give Olson credit for an unbelievable night,”

Linfield, making its first postseason appearance since 2001, led the NWC in rebounding during the regular season and outrebounded the Pirates by 14 in their two previous games. Calvin Jurich, who also scored 14 points, equaled Montgomery with 14 rebounds.

Ross Nakamura added 18 points for the Pirates, whom Olson credited for their resilience this season and Thursday night.

“We battled with them … but in the end they made plays, and we didn’t,” said Olson.

Whitworth 74, Linfield 66

 Linfield (12-14)- Olson 9-20 7-7 32, Tesoro 6-22 0-0 14, McCollum 2-6 1-2 5, Wiser 3-9 2-4 9, Schroeder 1-5 2-2 5, Weber 0-2 0-0 0, Hunt 0-1 0-0 0, Stoefen 0-0 0-0 0, Chisolm 0-0 0-0 0, Paul 0-0 1-2 1, Dennis 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-65 13-17 66.

Whitworth (21-5)- Riley 2-4 0-1 5, Jurich 7-17 0-1 14, Montgomery 8-17 12-15 31, Nakamura 7-11 3-4 18, Gebbers 0-3 2-2 2, Sellereit 2-6 0-0 4, Gregg 0-4 0-0 0, Taylor 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-62 17-23 74.

Halftime—Linfield 25, Whitworth 30. 3-Point Goals—Linfield 11-28 (Olson 7-11, Tesoro 2-9, Schroeder 1-3, Wiser 1-4, Hunt 0-1), Whitworth 5-12 (Montgomery 3-4, Riley 1-1, Nakamura 1-2, Gebbers 0-2, Gregg 0-2, Sellereit 0-1). Fouled Out—McCollum. Rebounds—Linfield 42 (Wiser 13), Whitworth 45 (Jurich, Montgomery 14). Assists—Linfield 12 (Tesoro 8), Whitworth 10 (Nakamura 4). Total Fouls—Linfield 19, Whitworth 15. A—1,250.