Whitworth University has had plenty of chances in the past five years to measure its NCAA Division III men’s basketball program against the best in the country.
It got another one Sunday afternoon, when Washington (Mo.) University, a team that won back-to-back national titles in 2008 and 2009, invaded Whitworth Fieldhouse.
And the 12th-ranked Pirates once again proved more than worthy of keeping proper company with the D-III elites by slapping a 88-66 loss on the Bears in front of a crowd of 680.
Junior point guard Wade Gebbers knocked down 7 of 10 3-point tries and scored a career-high 25 points, and seniors Idris Lasisi and Felix Friedt combined for 35 points and 12 rebounds as the Bucs (2-0) took control early on to post their 39th consecutive home win.
“We knew they would be a good test,” first-year Whitworth coach Matt Logie said of the Bears (2-1), who play in the perennially powerful University Athletic Association. “They obviously have a tradition-rich program, but we’d like to think we’ve got a great tradition here, too.”
The Bears, who were coming off a 68-65 overtime road win over Whitman College on Friday, raced to an early 13-7 lead, but the Pirates responded by putting together a nearly perfect 7-minute stretch of basketball that saw them score 18 unanswered points, while holding Washington without a field goal on 11 highly contested basket tries.
Gebbers, whose seven 3-pointers was also a career high, scored eight points during Whitworth’s big run, and then came out after intermission – with the Pirates leading 50-29 – and buried 3 of 4 3-point ties to put the Bucs up 59-29.
“We knew about their tradition and that they weren’t going to give up,” said Gebbers. “In college basketball, 20 points can disappear quickly, so we came out in the second half with the same intensity we had at the beginning of the game, and, fortunately, my team got me open for some 3s and I was able to knock them down.
“And once that first couple go in, the basket does look a lot bigger.”
Still, both Logie and Gebbers thought it was defense that decided this one as the Bucs held the Bears to just 34.2 percent shooting (23 of 67) from the field, including a mere 20 percent (3 of 15) from 3-point range.
“I thought our guys came out with a sense of urgency, defensively, and a real awareness of our defensive game plan,” Logie said. “We really took away from them what we wanted to take away, and that led to some transition opportunities and some easy opportunities in the paint.
“And once we got into the paint, we were able to get some open 3s and shoot the ball really well.”
Gebbers called Whitworth’s seven minutes of first-half dominance a “great stretch.”
“And that can be attributed to our defense,” he added. “When our defensive intensity is up, that’s when we’re playing our best offense. So even though it might have looked better on the offensive end, I think most of it had to do with our defense.”
Lasisi finished with 17 points and five rebounds for the Pirates, while Friedt added 17 points and seven rebounds.