The arrival of conference play has often heralded the beginning of the toughest part of Whitworth’s basketball schedule.
That hasn’t been the case this season.
Whitworth won its school-record 14th consecutive game Friday night and capped an unbeaten run through the first half of its Northwest Conference schedule with a 79-62 victory over Linfield at the Whitworth Fieldhouse.
Ranked 18th nationally, the Pirates improved to 15-2 overall and 8-0 in the NWC. Linfield fell to 8-7 and lost its first conference game in seven contests.
“Our team is playing really well – maybe as well as any Whitworth team I’ve had,” Pirates coach Jim Hayford said.
Whitworth’s pick-and-roll tandem of guard Eric Beal and post Nate Montgomery overwhelmed Linfield’s porous defense. Beal fired in 16 of his 18 points in the first half, and Montgomery added 12 as the Pirates built a 50-32 halftime lead.
Clay Gebbers scored seven points during a 13-2 spurt that increased Whitworth’s lead to 20-8, and the Wildcats never pulled closer than eight after that.
Linfield star K.C. Wiser, a 6-foot-8 junior posting team highs this year with 17 points and 10 rebounds a game, was saddled with his second foul 71/2 minutes into the first half. He didn’t score until 9:15 remained in the game, and he finished with four points and two rebounds in 21 minutes.
“We wanted to go at him and get him in foul trouble,” said Montgomery, who tallied 14 points and 10 rebounds. “You have to be physical with him because you don’t want him to get into a rhythm.”
Linfield narrowed its deficit to 52-40 early in the second half, but David Riley’s 3-pointer ignited a 7-0 run and pushed the Pirates’ lead back to 19. Riley scored 16 points, 10 after halftime.
Cody Tesoro paced the Wildcats with 18 points, and Brady Martin chipped in 10.
The Pirates have beaten their last 14 opponents by an average of 18 points, and their average winning margin in NWC play is 17.
Whitworth has benefited playing in a conference comprised of teams rebuilding or in a state of transition. While the Whits are 7-2 outside the NWC, their conference rivals have combined for just 25 wins in 68 nonconference games. In a down year conference-wide, the Pirates are a threat to become just the second NWC team ever to finish unbeaten in conference play after Puget Sound accomplished the feat last year.
“It’s always in the back of your mind, I guess,” Montgomery said when asked about possibly going 16-0 in the NWC, “but we do a good job focusing on our next games and focusing on one opponent at a time.”
Whitworth honored former Gonzaga basketball coach and athletic director Dan Fitzgerald with a moment of silence before tipoff. The school also set up donation containers at the arena for people willing to donate items to earthquake victims in Haiti.