Whitworth players, fans gear up for postseason

Wade Gebbers has seen it before: The Whitworth men’s basketball team is peaking at the right time, and so are its fans.

“It’s exciting to play at home, and the playoffs have been even better,” said Gebbers, a junior point guard who will his begin his third postseason tonight as the Pirates face Lewis & Clark in the semifinals of the Northwest Conference tournament.

Tipoff is at 7 p.m. at the Whitworth Fieldhouse.

The winner moves on to the NWC championship game on Saturday. If it’s Whitworth, that game will be also played in front of a student section that was in rare form last weekend on Senior Night.

“It’s definitely a privilege to play at home,” center Felix Friedt said. “It’s even more exciting to give our fans some postseason basketball.”

Whitworth has been doing that for a while, winning the last five tournament titles. This year’s edition won the NWC regular-season title with a 15-1 record – four games ahead of the pack – that included a pair of wins over the Pioneers.

The Pirates have won nine straight games and are 78-5 overall at home since the 2005-06 season.

“Of course, the crowd can only help us so much,” said Gebbers, mindful that Pirates have shot only 33 percent from 3-point range at home, compared with 48 percent on the road.

“I’m not sure why that is,” first-year head coach Matt Logie said. “Sometimes shooting has its ebbs and flows, and that’s why we build our foundation on defense.”

In their last meeting, the Pirates held Lewis & Clark to 15 points in the second half en route to a 79-59 win in Portland.

Should they stumble this time, the 10th-ranked Pirates still have a strong argument for an at-large berth in the Division III national tournament. For the Pioneers, it’s win or go home.

“I expect them to come out with a lot of energy,” Logie said. “I thought they were one of the more talented teams in the conference.”

The Pioneers, 9-7 in the NWC and 14-11 overall, have four players averaging double figures. James Hollins averages 15.8 points and 6.3 rebounds per game; Ross Erickson averages 13.0 points and seven boards.

“They put a lot of pressure on you defense, and because of that you have to score,” said Logie, who has three players averaging double figures – including Idris Lasisi (16.4 ppg), Friedt (16.2) and Gebbers (13.6).

Friedt leads the team at 8.8 rebounds per game, but is getting more help inside thanks to the return from injury of forwards Jack Loofburrow and Mack Larkin.

The nine-game winning streak is “a byproduct of getting guys back healthy,” Logie said. “But ultimately we’ll be judged by what these next games hold.”

In the other semifinal Thursday, second-seeded Puget Sound will host No. 3 Whitman in Tacoma. Whitworth swept the Loggers in the regular season, but suffered its only conference loss to Whitman, 77-66, on Jan. 17. The Pirates returned the favor with an 81-74 win at Whitman on Feb. 14.

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