First-round opponents familiar for Whitworth
The double-champion Whitworth Pirates men’s and women’s basketball teams learned Monday that they both will be playing familiar foes this week in the NCAA Division III national tournament.
The No. 12 Whitworth (22-5) men will travel to Dallas to play Trinity University (19-9) on Friday. The host school for that pod, No. 16 University of Texas-Dallas (25-3), will play Chapman (18-9) on Friday. The winners meet on Saturday.
Whitworth opened the season with a 71-53 win over Trinity in Tacoma. Whitworth also beat the Tigers in a second-round tournament game in 2012.
But Pirates coach Matt Logie pointed out that the Tigers were without second-leading scorer Zach Lambert on Nov. 15.
“Both teams back in November were totally different than they are today,” Logie said. “Our guys will be excited to play them.”
But the excitement was tempered for women’s coach Helen Higgs, who learned Monday that her Pirates (20-7) will play Northwest Conference rival George Fox for the fourth time this season on Friday.
The Pirates earned their second-straight tournament bid when they upset No. 1, and previously undefeated, Whitman 68-65 Saturday night in the NWC tournament final.
Their reward: The Pirates travel back to Walla Walla where they face a potential second-round game against Whitman. But first, Whitworth plays George Fox (22-4), followed by a matchup between Whitman (26-1) and Chapman (21-6).
The winners play on Saturday for a spot in the Sweet 16.
Whitworth lost to George Fox 59-56 on Jan. 17 in Newberg, Ore. But the Pirates beat the Bruins 72-68 on Feb. 15 at home and again on Thursday 74-55 in the NWC tournament.
“Hey, we know a little bit more about them,” Higgs said. “What’s disappointing is that our league is very, very strong this year. We have three good teams and only one is going to get out of this side of the bracket.”
Senior guard Kayla Johnson, from Colfax, led the Pirates with 18.1 points and 7.2 rebounds a game. She was named to the All-Northwest Conference first team.
“We are excited to play them again. We know what we need to do to beat them,” Johnson said of the Bruins. “It’d be nice to go somewhere and play a different team. But (Walla Walla) is convenient for our families.”
For the men’s team, traveling to Texas brings a welcome change, if nothing else, in the weather, said senior guard Dustin McConnell, the NWC Player of the Year.
“Having great players around you helps,” McConnell said. “I just want to enjoy every moment I have left on the court and try to have fun.”
The tournament will be the fourth straight for McConnell and Colton McCargar and the eighth consecutive year the Pirates have made the dance. They earned the automatic bid by holding on to beat Puget Sound 71-68 Saturday in the NWC tournament final.
McConnell averaged 13.1 points and 3.7 rebounds a game for the Pirates.
Fellow senior guard, McCargar, led the team with 15.5 points per contest.
“They are a really good team with lots of good shooters,” McCargar said of Trinity. “They are much better now than when we first played them.”
Logie said Whitworth scheduled Trinity for the regular season because coaches expected to see teams of their caliber in the tournament.
“Playing them before certainly is beneficial,” he said. “But there is no real advantage for either team.”
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