The No. 2 Whitworth Pirates are gambling that a mid-season tournament in Las Vegas will help prepare them for another late-season run.
The Pirates (9-0, 2-0 Northwest Conference) play Tuesday at 8 p.m. against Calvin College (4-5), which has made three consecutive NCAA Division III tournaments and has two national titles in its trophy case.
Then at 4 p.m. Wednesday, the Pirates will play Mary Hardin-Baylor (3-4). Both games are part of the D3hoops.com Classic.
“Both of these programs are perenial NCAA tournament teams,” Whitworth coach Matt Logie said. “I’m excited about the opportunity and challenge to face them in Las Vegas.”
The Pirates finally have a full ship of weapons after transfer guard AJ Grant has become eligibile and the team also has guard Kenny Love fully recovered from an eye injury that forced him to miss four games.
Junior wing Christian Jurlina leads the team with 16.9 points per game. But Whitworth also has three other players averaging in double figures with George Valle (15.9), Matt Staudacher (10.9) and Love (10.4).
“One of the things we pride ourselves in is our balance and how well we play together,” Logie said. “That’s one of the beautiful things about this team: nobody cares who gets the credit. That balance makes us difficult to prepare for.”
Calvin, which finished 24-6 last season, is led by Jordan Daley, who averages 19.7 points a game.
“He can score in a variety of ways,” Logie said of Daley. “He’s always hunting his opportunity.”
Mary Hardin-Baylor, which finished 17-9 last season, is led by three players averaging about 15 points.
The Crusaders are “a very explosive team. They score a lot of points,” Logie said. “It will be important to take care of the basketball and not give them anything easy in transition.”
After the Las Vegas road trip, the Pirates will next return home on Jan. 5 to begin the rest of its conference schedule against Whitman.
“This is a great opportunity to play two great programs,” Logie said, “and see what we are made of.”
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