The Whitworth Pirates are in their element – the postseason – and it showed Thursday night.
Hitting their stride while taking the Puget Sound Loggers out of theirs, the Pirates pulled away for a 97-79 Northwest Conference semifinal win at the Fieldhouse.
Fourth-ranked Whitworth did almost everything right to advance to its 15th straight NWC title game, Saturday night at top-ranked Whitman.
The Pirates scrapped their way to a 52-38 rebounding margin, shot 49 percent from the field and more than held their own against the Loggers’ full-court press.
“It definitely was a fun game,” said post Ben Bishop, who scored 17 points – 11 in the first half as Whitworth punished the Loggers’ overaggressiveness.
“All the credit goes to our guards,” Bishop said.
True enough: A day after being named the conference player of the year, junior guard Kyle Roach lived up to the honor with 21 points, six rebounds and four assists.
Three other guards finished in double figures – Jared Christy with 14 and Ben College and Garrett Hull with 13 apiece.
The only thing Whitworth didn’t do was break 100 points, as the Pirates did in a 111-97 win over the Loggers two weeks ago.
That’s OK: The Pirates handled UPS at the other end of the court, as the Loggers were just 39 percent from the field and 24 percent from long range.
Whitworth’s reward is another matchup with Whitman, which looked eminently beatable in a 100-99 escape from the Fieldhouse on Feb. 6.
“That was a one-possession game, and we’ve improved since then,” Bishop said.
Whitman defeated visiting Linfield 87-76 in Thursday’s other semifinal game.
No matter what happens on Saturday, the Pirates (23-3) are assured of another trip to the NCAA Tournament. Pairings will be announced Monday.
Roach set the tone early with a fastbreak 3-pointer as Whitworth made four of its first five shots to take an early 9-6 lead.
A few minutes later, the Pirates capitalized on a turnover that led to another 3-pointers from Roach and a downcourt pass from Hull that Sam Lees turned into a layin and a 31-20 Whitworth lead.
“I thought our guys did a really good job executing with poise, and kept their eyes off the floor,” coach Matt Logie said.
The Loggers had plenty of open looks the first half, but hit just 3 of 13 shots from beyond the arc.
Whitworth wasn’t much better from outside (4 for 13) but found Bishop at the tail end of several fast breaks and he responded with 11 first-half points.
Seven minutes in the game, Bishop was in double figures after hitting 5 of 6 inside shots.
Leading 48-40 at halftime, Whitworth steadily pulled away and enjoyed a double-digit lead for the last 15 minutes.
UPS (18-7) came into Thursday’s game on a six-game winning streak while leading the conference in 3-pointers made (12.1 per game) and second in scoring (96.6 points) and steals (14.2).
Whitworth held the Loggers below their averages in all three categories while turning the ball over just 14 times.
“Fourteen turnovers against that pressure gives you a chance to win, and and we’ve gotten better as the year has gone on,” Logie said.
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