Considering the kind of roll Whitworth University’s men’s basketball team is on right now, it probably didn’t matter.
Nonetheless, Pirates coach Jim Hayford made a point of giving most members of his regular rotation plenty of rest Friday night at Whitworth Fieldhouse as the No. 2-ranked Bucs buried Northwest Conference rival Linfield 70-43 to keep their record unblemished.
David Riley scored a game-high 17 points, Mike Taylor added 16 and Wade Gebbers finished with 14 as the Pirates (18-0 overall, 9-0 in the NWC) raced to a 35-16 lead and never let the overmatched Wildcats (8-10, 4-5) up for air.
The win was the Pirates’ 31st straight at home and ran their Whitworth Fieldhouse winning streaking against NWC opponents to 33, with postseason tournament games factored in.
But, perhaps, the most important aspect of the lopsided win was the fact that Hayford pulled most of his regulars midway through the second half in an effort to keep them rested for Saturday’s 8 p.m. home showdown against Lewis & Clark (14-4, 7-2), which remains in second place in the league standings despite losing to Whitman 80-70.
“In the back of my mind, I figured I wanted to have the fresher team tomorrow night,” Hayford said of his decision to clear his bench early. “So that was a part of my thinking.
“Hopefully, it pays off.”
If the Pirates defend like they did against Linfield, there’s a good chance it will.
The Bucs, operating out of an aggressive man-to-man defense and providing plenty of weakside help on the low blocks, limited the Wildcats to 30.4 percent shooting (14 of 46) from the field and held K.C. Wiser, the NWC’s leading scorer, to a single point – which was 22.9 below his season average.
“Our team defense tonight was superb,” Hayford said. “Other than the guys on my team, the best player in our league is K.C. Wiser, and I thought we did a tremendous job on him.”
Wiser, who took only six shots and missed them all, was not about to argue with Hayford’s assessment.
“They really knew what to do against me,” said the 6-foot-8, 240-pound center, whose only point came on a free throw with just under 9 minutes left in the game. “We definitely haven’t seen a defense like this. You’re never playing one-on-one against them; you’re playing one-on-five wherever you go.
“They kept a lot of guys around me, took us out of what we wanted to run on offense, and then I didn’t hit my shots when I got them. Basically, it was a mixture of terribleness.”
Linfield, which missed it first six shots of the game, never got into any kind of offensive rhythm and was rushed into 19 turnovers. Rosario Sergio, a senior forward, finished as the Wildcats’ leading scorer with just 10 points.
Whitworth, meanwhile, shot 44.9 percent (22 of 49) from the field, hitting seven of nine second-half 3-pointers.
“It was just a solid all-around effort,” Hayford said.
Whitworth 65, Linfield 58: Lauren Picha and Emily Guthrie each scored 16 points and Jamie Lyons added 10 points and five rebounds as the Pirates (10-8, 5-3 NWC) went on a 7-0 run late in the second half to beat the visiting Wildcats (9-8, 4-5).
Gretchen Owens finished with a game-high 26 points for Linfield. The Wildcats were held scoreless for a 4-minute, 43-second stretch late in the game that helped the Pirates pull away.
Guthrie and Picha combined to go 8 of 17 from 3-point range as Whitworth shot 38.7 percent from the floor.