Pirates show off inside strength
The streak is at 19 games and still counting for Whitworth.
The Pirates easily dispatched one of their nearest Northwest Conference men’s basketball challengers, Lewis & Clark, 89-70 at the Fieldhouse on Friday night.
Sophomore post Taylor Farnsworth scored 22 points to lead a Whitworth offense that looked inside against the Pioneers instead of looking for 3-pointers.
“We felt we could pound the ball inside against Lewis & Clark,” Whitworth coach Matt Logie said. “Taylor is playing with a lot of confidence right now. The turnaround for him was the trip to California.
“He had a big night against Pacific, but that was probably a carry-over from California.”
Farnsworth’s strengths against the Pioneers was no surprise to Pirates senior Zach Payne, who goes head-to-head with the sophomore post every day in practice.
“We knew coming into this season that if we were going to have an inside game, we were the two guys who would have to step up,” Payne said. “You can see just how hard Taylor’s worked – I think he’s the best big man in the league right now.
“For me, it’s been about losing weight and getting lighter on my feet. I lost 18 pounds and I think it makes a big difference.”
Colton McCargar came off the Pirates bench to add 16 points, with George Valle, Dustin McConnell and Payne adding 13, 11 and 10 points, respectively.
Whitworth ran its conference record to 11-0 with the win on a night when the No. 1-ranked Division III team in the nation, Rochester, finally lost a game, opening the door for the Pirates to a move up from their No. 3 ranking.
It’s likely that, barring an upset loss to Pacific tonight, Whitworth will climb to No. 2 in next week’s poll, behind St. Thomas.
“The rankings are nice and everything,” Payne said. “And we’re aware that we have a streak going right now, but we try not to pay too much attention to that stuff and concentrate on playing as hard as we can.”
The Pirates remain the only Northwest Conference team undefeated in conference play and moved steadily closer to clinching the regular season title. With five games remaining, Whitworth holds a commanding four-game lead over LC, Whitman and George Fox, its opponents next week.
“I think this is the toughest part of the season for us,” said Payne, a senior captain. “Lewis & Clark is tough and so are Whitman and George Fox. And Pacific, I think, is the most underrated team in the conference.”
Whitworth’s win streak is the third longest in school history. Two seasons ago the Pirates won 23 straight and went into the NCAA Division III tournament ranked No. 1 in the country. The 2009-10 Bucs hold the school record with a 25-game run.
Next on the Pirates’ agenda is to extend their school record streak of seasons with at least 20 victories to eight. The Pirates have won 63 of their last 65 conference home games.
While a high national rankings is nice, it will have no impact on seeding in the Division III tournament. Match-ups are determined as much by travel connections as by record.
Barring an upset in the final five regular-season games or in the conference tournament, the Pirates are likely to host at least one tournament game.