Whitworth men win NCAA berth
Whitworth played one of its cleanest games of the season Saturay night.
The Pirates turned it over just seven times in a 86-71 victory over Puget Sound in the Northwest Conference championship game at Whitworth Fieldhouse.
Now they can only hope that they don’t get a traveling call from the Division III officials Monday morning.
That’s when pairings will be announced for the national tournament, which begins Thursday at campus sites. Whitworth hopes to be one of them.
“I believe they’ve earned an opportunity to host a game here,” said first-year athletic director Aaron Leetch, “and I hope the committee will see it that way.”
“For the students too, because they deserve it too,” added Leetch, watching the players and fans dance together at midcourt, celebrating the Pirates’ sixth straight trip to the nationals.
First-year coach Matt Logie joined the celebration, net in hand from the Pirates’ second net-cutting ceremony in as many weeks.
“Championships are special,” said Logie, whose Pirates bring a 24-3 record and an 11-game winning streak into the national tournament.
“We’re going to enjoy the journey every step of the way,” Logie added. “And I would love to play before these fans one more time and see what happens.”
Unlike Thursday’s semifinal win over Lewis & Clark, the 10th-ranked Pirates started fast against UPS. Whitworth led 8-2 and 15-8 early, but the Loggers began to hit from outside, going on a 14-6 run. UPS led briefly, 24-23, on a 3-pointer by Kaleb Shelton.
But Lasisi hit back-to-back 3-pointers in a 30-second span as Whitworth took the lead for good. Later, Wade Gebbers gave the Pirates their first double-digit lead of the game, 39-29 with 2 minutes left.
Six Pirates scored in double figures, led by 19 from Lasisi and 17 from Gebbers. Each had five assists.
“This was fun,” said Gebbers. “I found some open shots and felt like I was in a better rhythm tonight.”
The lead stretched to 15 before the Pirates settled for a 46-34 advantage at intermisson.
Whitworth was better than 50 percent from the field in the first half, going 17 for 33. It got even better in the second half – 15 for 25, or 60 percent.
The Loggers played Whitworth even in the second half, but couldn’t cut the gap to single digits. Whitworth stretched the lead to 54-37 with 17 minutes left, but the Loggers chipped it to 12 while hitting 47 percent from the field.
“We took away what we wanted to take away,” said Logie, “But UPS shot well, and that’s a credit to them.”
They could have cut the deficit to nine with 12 minutes left, but Holmes missed from long range and Gebbers hit a 3 to put the Pirates ahead 61-46. UPS never got closer than 11 the rest of the way.
Mack Larkin’s breakaway layup gave Whitworth a 75-57 lead with 4:46 to go and it seemed the game was well in hand. But the Loggers had one final run, getting back within 82-71 following a basket by Edric Egberuare with 1:52 to play. UPS would not score again, however.
Felix Friedt added 12 points and eight rebounds for the Pirates, while Larkin and Dustin McConnell each scored 11. Jack Loofburrow had 10 points off of the bench.
Holmes scored 19 to lead Puget Sound, which finished 20-7 and must hope for an at-large bid to the national tournament.