John Wooden used to preach quickness over size, and though the former UCLA mentor never coached in the Northwest Conference, he would be proud to know his philosophy still works.
Exhibit A was Whitworth College’s NWC-opening 75-64 win over visiting Linfield before 850 at the Fieldhouse on Friday night.
The Wildcats were bigger – two inches and at least 15 pounds per starter – but the Pirates were quicker at every spot and that was the difference.
“Each night we have to look at what our greatest strength is relative to their greatest weakness,” Pirate coach Jim Hayford said. “Tonight it was our speed as opposed to their size. We thought if we pressured every pass and made them start 22 feet out, it would negate their inside game.”
The Wildcats (4-6 overall, 0-1) three inside starters, including two 6-foot-8 posts, scored 25 points, six below their average. Linfield’s leading scorer, 6-6 guard Blake Shelton, did finish enough acrobatic dunks and drives to lead both teams with 19 points, but, under the aggressive defense of 6-1 guard J.J. Jones, he was just 6 of 16 from the floor.
“I just tried to stay in front of him and contest every shot,” the sophomore from Moses Lake said.
But it was on the offensive end where Whitworth’s speed really showed. Last season the Pirates rode Bryan Depew, their all-time leading scorer, a 6-5 post. This year they spread the court and expect everyone to score.
Including point guard Bryan Williams, the Mead graduate who had 16, most after using his quickness to get separation from the bigger, slower Wildcats.
But Williams also distributes – he had a game-high six assists – which gets other Pirates looks.
“I like a nice balance (between scoring and passing),” the sophomore explained. “When I have the open shot I will take it, but if someone else is open I’m going to pass it to them. I really want to have a balance between the two this year.”
The two biggest beneficiaries of the passing component Friday were shooting guard Jon Young (17 points, including five 3-pointers) and small forward Lance Pecht, a West Valley High graduate who transferred from Lewis-Clark State this season.
The 6-3 Pecht led the Pirates with 18 points (on 8 of 14 shooting) and, with a game-high seven boards, helped the Pirates (5-4, 1-0) post a 34-29 rebounding edge.
“We don’t have anybody who is going to have a double-double (in scoring and rebounding),” Hayford said. “We’ll have to rebound by committee, just like we’ve had to do all four years I’ve been here.
“We are a young team,” Hayford continued, “and we’re still just learning how to do things.”
When the Pirates did things right, especially on the offensive end, they put the game away. After leading by as much as 11 in the first half, they went in the locker room leading by just three. But a quick 13-4 run got it back to 11 early, then, after Linfield bulled its way back to within three, another 15-2 run built the lead back to 16 at the 8:49 mark and assured the Whits their sixth consecutive win over Linfield.
More than a month into the season, Friday’s game was their first chance to play a home game that counted – and mattered. Their only two appearances in Spokane this season were for exhibitions, so the NWC opener was a chance to show their wares. And to get off to a good league start.
“We play five of our first eight league games at home,” Hayford said, “so we have to defend the home court. It was important to get the first one.”
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