Before you could say, “national playoff berth,” the Whitworth Pirates cruised to a double-digit lead before wrapping up a 71-58 win against the Linfield Wildcats Wednesday night at the Pirates Fieldhouse.
Linfield coach Larry Doty had just called a timeout with 13:54 to play in the game with his team trailing 45-31.
One of Doty’s assistants was diagraming a play for Linfield while Doty stood away from the bench just staring at the scoreboard.
“I was just thinking of something, anything, just wondering if there was anything we could do to stop these guys,” Doty said.
The Pirates’ (21-4) win in the first round of the Northwest Conference postseason tournament all but secured a berth to the NAIA Division II National playoffs at Nampa, Idaho, March 6-12.
Whitworth will host Lewis & Clark Saturday night at 8. The Pioneers defeated Pacific Lutheran 66-60 Wednesday night. The winner of that game will receive an automatic bid to nationals.
Should the Pirates lose, by virtue of a No. 5 ranking, and what would be a 21-5 record in the event of a loss, Whitworth would be a very strong candidate for an at-large bid. And if for some strange reason the Pirates don’t go to nationals, Whitworth coach Warren Friedrichs had his hair off for nothing.
After Wednesday’s win, some of the Pirates took turns shaving Friedrichs. Earlier in the season, senior guard Roman Wickers made a bet with Friedrichs.
“He asked me if I’d shave my head if we won 20 games and went to nationals,” Friedrichs said. “I said sure, but I thought he was going to be in on this as well.”
Wickers not only had a hand in shaving Friedrichs, but he did a masterful job of carving up Linfield. He finished with a team-high 19 points on 8-for-17 shooting from the floor, grabbed six rebounds and dished out four assists.
The Houston native set an up-tempo beat for Whitworth against a Linfield team that desperately tried to slow the game.
“It was important that we continued to move the ball around in the half-court against their zone to get good shots,” Wickers said.
And the beneficiary of some of those shots was senior John Beckman. He was 5 for 7 from the floor - 4 for 5 from behind the 3-point line - and finished with 14 points.
“It’s pretty funny that I got hot like I did because I really wasn’t shooting that well in warmups,” Beckman said.
Beckman made three 3-pointers just before the half and helped stretch a 21-20 lead to 34-26 at the half.
At the start of the second half, Whitworth’s Jeff Arkills, Wickers, Nate Dunham, Beckman and Nate Williams went on a 23-12 run to put the game out of reach.
Dunham finished with 17 points. Arkills had 10 and Williams seven.
For Linfield (11-14), Alex Dixon finished with 21 points and 6-foot-11 center Jason Henderson added 11.
Henderson gave Whitworth problems on the inside early, but between the defense of Dunahm, Beckman and Jeff Mix, he was quickly taken out of Linfield’s offense.
“I thought we did a much better job of fronting him (Henderson) than we did the first two times we played them,” Friedrichs said.
Whitworth 71, Linfield 58
Linfield - Rohlffs 0-0 0-0 0, Lucas 0-8 2-2 2, Doucette 1-1 2-2 5, Bailey 3-9 0-0 7, Faison 0-1 0-0 0, Curran 0-0 0-0 0, Dickover 1-2 0-0 3, Nietz 1-1 2-2 4, Dixon 9-23 1-2 21, Miller 0-1 0-0 0, Henderson 4-10 3-8 11, Nelson 2-5 0-0 4. Totals 21-61 11-18 58.
Whitworth - Weston 0-1 0-0 0, Mix 1-3 0-2 2, Williams 3-6 0-0 7, Wickers 8-17 1-1 19, Jones 0-4 0-0 0, Dunham 7-12 3-8 17, Vargas 0-0 0-0 0, Arkills 4-6 2-2 10, Beckman 5-7 0-0 14, Schulz 0-2 0-0 0, Jordan 0-0 0-0 0, Jones 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-58 8-15 71.
Halftime-Whitworth 34, Linfield 26. 3-pointer-Linfield 5-18 (Lucas 0-4, Doucette 1-1, Bailey 1-5, Faison 0-1, Dickover 1-1, Dixon 2-6), Whitworth 7-19 (Weston 0-1, Williams 1-3, Wickers 2-6, Jones 0-3, Dunham 0-1, Beckman 4-5). Total fouls-Linfield 15, Whitworth 15. Fouled out-None. Technical fouls-Gabe Jones. Rebounds - Linfield 37 (Henderson 10), Whitworth 39 (Dunham 9). Assists-Linfield 14 (Bailey 6), Whitworth 17 (Williams 6).
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: TITLE CHASE Whitworth will host Lewis & Clark on Saturday for the NCIC title
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