Jim Hayford calls it the scene of the crime, and he’ll encourage his players to be repeat offenders.
Whitworth returns to Puget Sound tonight for the second round of the NCAA Division III national basketball tournament, the same site in which the Pirates stunned UPS in overtime one week ago to win the conference tournament title.
The game tips off at 7 at the Memorial Fieldhouse in Tacoma.
UPS (24-3) finished the regular season ranked third in the country and the first team in the Northwest Conference to complete the NWC’s 16-game schedule unbeaten. Neither fact mattered last Saturday when Whitworth (23-5) pulled away in overtime for a 90-80 victory that guaranteed the Pirates’ spot in the national tourney.
“If you step back and look at the big picture, we’re going to have a Northwest Conference team in the Sweet 16,” said Hayford, the Pirates coach who earned his 200th victory Thursday night in a first-round 81-63 win over Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. “UPS is a great environment. Whitworth has a great following on the West Side with our fans. Every player in the world wants to play in a big game like this.”
Bo Gregg, who was reinserted into the starting lineup against CMS with Clay Gebbers recovering from his second concussion this season, was ready for a fourth showdown with Puget Sound, which beat Whitworth in the teams’ two encounters during the regular season.
“Bring it on,” Gregg said. “Let’s go.”
Versatile forward Jason Foster, a 6-foot-7 senior who was named the conference’s player of the year, leads UPS with 15 points and 6.8 rebounds a game. He’s made 20 3-pointers, but he also leads the team in blocks (58) and is second in steals (41).
Seniors Antwan Williams and Robert Krauel joined Foster on the All-NWC first team. Williams is an electrifying point guard who led the conference with 143 assists, and his 5.3 apg rank 36th nationally. Krauel is a smooth-shooting swingman second on the team with 14.3 points per contest.
Puget Sound ranks 10th in the country in turnover margin (6.1). Williams is a savvy player who takes care of the basketball, but he also spearheads the Loggers’ tenacious full-court press that has produced 598 turnovers by opponents this year. Whitworth turned the ball over 53 times in the teams’ three meetings, compared to Puget Sound’s 46.
The tournament’s round of 16 and quarterfinals, defined as sectionals by the NCAA, are slated for Friday and next Saturday at sites yet to be determined.
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